“The special forces unit, Comandante Yesenia of the National Liberation Army, on the 18th of January retained engineers and technicians of the multinational gold explorer, Geo Explorer (a subcontractor of the Toronto-based Braeval Mining Corporation), in the mine Casa de Barro in Norosi, south of Bolivar,” the ELN said in a statement published on the group’s homepage.
The kidnapping of five people — two Colombian nationals, two Peruvians and one Canadian — marks the first kidnapping of foreigners since June of 2011 when the country’s other left-wing guerrilla group, FARC, took four Chinese oil workers in southern Colombia.
According to the ELN, natural resources should be treated as a “common good…gold with a social benefit,” as they called it.
“The government gave 99% of the mining titles in the Serrania de San Lucas (small region in the Bolivar department) to foreign companies, leaving around 1% for the communities who live in this territory,” wrote the ELN.
The statement, signed by the “Dario Ramirez Castro” Front, did not make any mention of the possibility of liberation or the current state of the kidnapped.
Colombian defense minister Juan Carlos Pinzon on Tuesday said via Twitter that the ELN’s explanation was “unacceptable.”
“The ELN are justifying kidnapping, grave violation of [human rights]. They destroy natural resources with criminal mining and drug trafficking,” wrote Pinzon.
The ELN is not participating in the ongoing peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government. Some investigators claimed the kidnapping was carried out in order to pressure the government to initiate peace talks.
The ELN, with between 2,000 and 3,000 members, has been fighting the Colombian state since 1964.
The largest concentration of ELN guerrillas are believed to be found in northern and northeastern Colombia. Although their urban presence is limited, they are suspected of having a large militia network in the northern city of Cucuta.