Colombia’s last-standing rebel group, the ELN, continued its territorial expansion in 2017 while talking peace with the government, according to think tank Indepaz.
The guerrillas increased its presence from 140 to 165 municipalities across 22 provinces last year, the think tank said in a report. In addition, actions were recorded in five Venezuelan municipalities.
The 54-year-old rebel group began formalized talks with Colombia’s government in February last year but have continued their territorial expansion.
The guerrillas seem to have taken advantage of the security forces’ failure to assume control over areas abandoned by the FARC, the largest of the two guerrilla groups until its demobilization last year.
The group particularly expanded its territory in the west of the country where they have been confronted by the AGC, a paramilitary group that has been active in the region since 2006.
Also along the Venezuelan border and into Venezuelan territory, the guerrillas increased their activity.
The ELN has perused the classic guerrilla tactic to use their military might to strengthen their hand at the negotiation table.
In 2017, the guerrillas killed 62 members of the security forces and 28 civilians. As many as 68 people were kidnapped for ransom, according to Indepaz.
The increase in actions carried out by the group have gone up drastically over the past few years. For example, in 2012, the average number of military actions accredited to the ELN was 250 while the equivalent figure in 2017 was 458.
The rebels have also been involved in attacks on police stations, road infrastructure and oil pipelines with a total of 45 attacks recorded on infrastructure before October when the guerrillas agreed to their first ever ceasefire.
Peace talks between the two sides had struggled to gain momentum due to mutual mistrust with incessant violence on the part of the rebels and paramilitary groups.