Colombia’s second largest rebel group, the ELN, has denied accusations it publicly displayed the amputated leg of a soldier near a high school.
The group found itself fiercely condemned after the amputated leg of a soldier who had stepped of a landmine was found put on display near a school in the province of Norte de Santander, an area where the ELN is highly active.
In its magazine, published on the rebel group’s website, the ELN said that it, “unlike the state which displays the bodies of guerrillas killed in combat as trophies, the ELN would never use degrading acts as such as a symbol of victory because our revolutionary ethics are based on the respect of human dignity.”
According to the ELN, “enemies of” exploratory peace talks with the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos put the leg on display “to delegitimize the insurgency and close the door to dialogue as part of a peace process.”
The rebel group additionally accused the government of a lack of prudence, by publicly and rapidly claiming the ELN was behind the display of the amputated limb.
The victimized soldier, Edwar Avila, lost both of his legs by stepping on a landmine while overseeing the construction of a playground near the educational institution in question.
Villagers later reported finding parts of his leg hanging in a net at the high school situated next to the playground.
“Exhibited parts were found, but no one knows who [is responsible] or at what time they were put in place, presumably it was the perpetrators,” said a villager.
However, officials across the Colombian political landscape voiced their disgust, with President Juan Manuel Santos taking to Twitter to exclaim that “the whole of Colombia rejects and condemns the atrocity of the ELN. It fills us with shame and sorrow!”
Despite the suffering Avila has had to endure and will no doubt continue to experience as a result of this occurrence, he appeared to be optimistic and strong moving forward when talking to media.
“Adversity for a soldier is fortifying, it helps me to be stronger in life. I only lost my legs and not my life, I have a lot of will to keep on living,” explained Avila.
The Ombudsman’s Office released a statement suggesting that this episode is not only a violation of International Humanitarian law, but it also jeopardizes the exploratory talks between the ELN and the Colombian government.
These ongoing talks were made public in June, five days before Santos successfully sought re-election, but so far have yet to be formalized.