Colombia’s second largest rebel group ELN increased attacks against military targets and the oil sector in March. The upsurge in violence comes amid doubts about the guerrillas’ possible participation in peace talks with the government.
According to a compilation of reports from national, regional and local media, the ELN realized seven armed actions in March, a sharp increase from February when only one ELN attack was recorded.
The majority of attacks were perpetrated by Colombia’s largest rebel group, the FARC, which launched a total of 56 attacks against several targets on Colombian territory during the month. The FARC’s offensive actions dropped from 77 the month before.
The area most affected by rebel violence was the northwestern Antioquia department, with 13 rebel actions. In the southwestern Cauca department, nine attacks were registered. The northeastern Arauca department and the southern Putumayo department saw seven attacks each.
Eight rebel attacks were directed against Colombia’s economically vital oil industry, with the FARC being held responsible for six of those.
Meanwhile, both rebel groups continued to carry out lethal attacks against the Colombian security forces. On March 29, FARC rebels killed a soldier in Antioquia’s Turbo municipality located next to Colombia’s Caribbean coast. On March 22, a FARC ambush left two soldiers dead in the southwestern Tolima department. In total, 14 policemen and soldiers were killed in rebel attacks in March.
Civilian casualties were also reported. In mid-March, FARC rebels fired several shots at cars that did not stop at a rebel road block in the northern Cesar department. Two civilians died in the shooting. In total, seven civilians were killed in rebel actions during the month, including a suspected triple homicide attributed to the FARC in Antioquia.
The Colombian government and the FARC are currently engaged in peace talks in Havana, Cuba, to put an end to nearly half a century of armed conflict. The ELN, however, is still not participating in the talks, despite top leader “Gabino” saying his organization was looking for a peaceful exit to the conflict.
Camilo Gonzalez, the president of the conflict-monitoring NGO Indepaz, told Colombia Reports that recent alliances between the two rebel groups could be related to the ELN’s attempt at joining the peace talks.
“I think there has been a process of convergence, above all in the zones where the ELN has a presence, like Arauca, Antioquia, Casanare and the Pacific coast of Nariño, where they have twice the influence. On the one hand they are military alliances, but on the other hand it is an approach that could mean something in the context of the Havana accords or parallel negotations with the ELN,” said Gonzalez.