BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Criminal gangs continue to operate freely in the port city of Buenaventura, carrying out murders and dismembering victims at an alarming rate one year after Colombia created a special task force to curb violence there, Human Rights Watch says in a new report released Wednesday.
A year ago, President Juan Manuel Santos sent additional police and prosecutors to boost security in what has long been one of Colombia's most-violent cities and a haven for paramilitary groups and drug traffickers.
Since then, murders have declined and arrests have gone up. But gangs comprised of former right-wing paramilitaries continue to exert control over entire neighborhoods, extorting businesses at will and threatening women with rape, according to the advocacy group.
The existence of so-called "chop-up houses" where victims are disappeared and dismembered in the city have been the focus of much of the attention on Buenaventura by the government and news media.
The remains of 32 such victims have been found in Buenaventura, at least 12 of them believed to have been killed after the task force was launched.
Terrorized by the killings, an estimated 6,900 residents have fled Buenaventura in the past year, making the city Colombia's biggest source of internal refugees.
Human Rights Watch was presenting the findings on Wednesday in Buenaventura.
The report says that the government needs to devote more resources to pursuing criminals in the impoverished city of 500,000 people. It adds that of the eight new prosecutors Santos sent to Buenaventura, only one is dedicated full-time to investigating disappearances and has a back log of more than 400 such cases.