Colombia’s second largest rebel group, the ELN, could grow from 2,500 to 6,000 armed members if not allowed to participate in the ongoing FARC-government peace talks, said conflict-monitoring NGO Indepaz on Friday.
According to Indepaz president, Camilo Gonzalez Posso, the Colombian government has made the mistake of ignoring the rebels during the ongoing FARC-government peace talks.
“President [Santos] cannot keep going in unknowingness of the need to have a peace accord with the ELN,” said the NGO president.
If the ELN is not included in the peace process, Gonzalez warned they could attract dissident FARC guerrillas disgruntled with a possible peace accord between their group and the government.
“We would no longer be struggling with a group of 2,500 men, but some 6,000,” said Gonzalez.
In early January, Leon Valencia, the director of the research institute Nuevo Arco Iris, said the ELN had “reorganized” in parts of northern and eastern Colombia.
Nuevo Arco Iris on Friday pointed out that the rebels had expanded from their traditional zones in Arauca, Nariño and Norte de Santander to new zones of influence in the western Choco and Antioquia departments in addition to the northern Bolivar department.
“The ELN cannot be measured for its military capacity, but for the regional influence it has,” said Ariel Avila, co-director at Nuevo Arco Iris. Avila also claimed that the ELN had adapted to the military offensive the Colombian government has launched against them over the past few years.
In rural parts the northeastern Arauca department, the ELN rebels had turned into a “de facto state,” the NGO wrote in a 2012 report.
The ELN has, on numerous occasions, claimed it is not involved in drug trafficking. However, the Colombian government says the group is involved in both drug and gasoline smuggling along the Venezuelan border.
ELN rebels on January 18 kidnapped five gold mining workers in the northern Bolivar department.
Nuevo Arco Iris said the ELN could be responsible for at least 10% of kidnappings in Colombia and warned this perecentage could increase due to the FARC’s decision to stop kidnapping civilians for financial gain.
The rebel organization increased its armed actions “100%” during 2011 compared to 2010, claimed the NGO.