BOGOTA, Colombia 

Controversial comments by Colombia’s new Defense Minister Diego Molano is causing an uproar following an aerial raid on a criminal’s hideout last week that killed at least 12 children.

Molano, who has been in office for a little more than one month, described minors recruited by guerrillas as “war machines” during an interview on Wednesday.

“We are talking about an operation that had a narco-terrorist structure that uses young people to turn them into war machines,” he said.

His remarks follow the revelation by opposition figure Hollman Morris who said the minors were reportedly killed in a March 2 army bombing in the southern Amazon region of Guaviare against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident leader Gentil Duarte.

The Human Rights Defense Foundation (DHOC) confirmed the deaths of at least one teen girl and Morris said other victims include a 16-year-old girl and that local authorities expect to identify the bodies of five additional minors in the coming hours.

Molano said FARC dissidents are responsible for recruiting children and turning them into fighters.

“Who’s responsible for recruiting those youths and converting them into war machines? It’s those organizations, not the national army,” he said.

His comments are drawing fire in a country where the deaths of several minors forced the resignation of a former defense minister in 2019.

Guillermo Botero resigned after a senator from an opposition party revealed that eight children were killed by the military in a similar raid.

Community leaders slammed Molano for his “disrespectful” comments.

“Children are not war machines,” said human rights activist Islena Rey Rodriguez. “To say that is an act of disrespect.”

President Ivan Duque has been under pressure to contain dissidents of a 2016 peace deal between the government and FARC, who are now taking control of drug trafficking routes left by the former guerrillas.

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