Four members of Colombia’s second largest far-left guerrilla group the ELN were killed in combat in the southwest of the country, according to the military.
The incident occurred in the rural zone of Timbiqui where the Army, Navy, Airforce and Police are conducting a joint operation against the ELN who are said to be terrorizing merchants and residents in the area.
The Colombian military confirmed that the operation “was planned and carried out as a result of intelligence work” which reflects the intensified nature of the fighting between the two sides in recent weeks.
The incident comes just a day after the leadership of the Marxist-inspired rebels reiterated their desire to begin negotiations for peace with the government which was announced by both sides in March.
The military’s statement reported the seizure of “seven rifles, two handguns, plenty of ammunition of different calibers, company backpacks, quartermaster material, a computer, USB memory sticks and documentation.”
The military believe that this operation “significantly affects logistics and criminal structure” of that front, which operates in Cauca, as the four dead guerrillas “were responsible for criminal work such as drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping and criminal mining. ”
The situation between the government and the ELN rebels is currently at stalemate.
Talks were due to commence in Ecuador to bring an end to the 52-year conflict following the March announcement of a framework for negotiation but the rebels’ unwillingness to release hostages from captivity has caused a major roadblock.
While the process is stalled, ELN violence has continued and Colombia’s President responded earlier this month by ordering the Armed Forces and Police to “intensify” their operations following the death of six members of the security forces at rebel hands.
On Sunday last, a minor was injured in the Western province of Choco as fighting broke out between the two sides.
Despite the intensified clashes over the past few weeks, the leader of the left-wing organisation Nicolas Bautista, a.k.a. “Gabino” stated in an interview on Sunday that “our organization has been and will be in search of peace.”
Colombia’s government are currently finalizing a peace deal with the country’s largest left-wing rebel group the FARC and Gabino warned the Santos administration that his rebels will not accept “a petty implementation” of this agreement.
With the FARC likely to disarm, and the ELN refusing to budge on the hostages issue, they could well face the full brunt of the governments military resources before peace talks can begin.