ELN rebels have allegedly killed six members of Colombia’s security forces and bombed the country’s second largest oil pipeline as announced peace talks seem further away than ever.
The government and the ELN announced formal talks in March, but have since regressed to increased mutual attacks.
State-run oil company Ecopetrol said that the ELN, which celebrated its 52nd anniversary over the weekend, was behind the bombing of the country’s second oil pipeline, the Caño Limon-Coveñas, near the Venezuelan border.
On Monday, alleged ELN rebels also killed one and injured three soldiers in the north of the country. Two policemen were allegedly killed by members of the same rebel group in the southwest.
According to President Juan Manuel Santos, the ELN also killed three marines in the far east of Colombia.
If true, this would mean the ELN has expanded its territory into an area controlled by paramilitary successor group “Libertadores de Vichada.”
The president on Tuesday told press about the latest spike in alleged ELN violence and called on the armed forces to “continue combating this organization with full force.”
The ELN in turn accused the Colombian government of purposely trying to frustrate the beginning of the announced formal phase of peace talks.
The guerrillas said on Twitter that the Santos administration’s “will for peace is no more than rhetoric lacking coherence.”
The group is the second largest far-left rebel group after the FARC, which has been holding formal negotiations with the government since 2012 and recently agreed to a bilateral ceasefire.
The violence and bickering between the ELN and the state poses a major threat to the success of a peace process with the FARC as the smaller rebel group could seek the insertion of dissident FARC guerrillas.
Both groups were formed in 1964 in a conflict that cost the lives of at least 260,000 Colombians and displaced approximately 7 million.