Throughout the 1990s, the strength of the leftist guerrillas grew, and the government was unable to defeat them or negotiate their surrender. The situation gave rise to another armed contender in Colombia’s civil war, the paramilitary right. The government initially encouraged the forerunners of some of these paramilitary groups as a way to protect rural communities from the guerrillas. Other paramilitary groups evolved after large landowners, some of them newly rich from the drug trade, hired armed bands to protect them from extortion and kidnapping. The main paramilitary group was the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC, United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia).
Paramilitary groups were scattered throughout the country and were especially strong in areas of the southeast, where the FARC was most powerful, and the northwest, where much of ELN’s strength lay.
The right-wing paramilitary groups rarely confronted the guerrillas directly. Instead, they sought through terror to deny the guerrillas the support of the civilian population. International human rights organizations blamed paramilitaries for the bulk of human rights violations in Colombia. They also accused elements of the Colombian armed forces of working with paramilitary groups against guerrillas and their alleged sympathizers. "Colombia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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