Colombia’s last-standing rebel group, the ELN, has told news agency Reuters it killed a Russian hostage in April when he tried to escape.
The Armenia-born captive, Arsen Voskanyan, had been kidnapped in November while allegedly trying to illegally collect poisonous frogs for export.
He was shot and killed after detonating a hand grenade that killed multiple guerrillas, unit leader “Yerson” told Reuters in a rare interview in the jungles of the northwestern Choco province.
“He’s dead,” said the guerrilla commander about the hostage who the rebels in April said had escaped after shooting his captors in the jungle municipality of Bajo Baudo.
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The grenade exploded … several of our boys were wounded, the entire unit of five boys. He fled, he was shot and killed … The issue of his body will be negotiated.”
The admitted killing of a foreign hostage could further complicate peace talks with the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos, which has been negotiating a ceasefire for months.
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The area where the former hostage is now lost is among the most dangerous jungle regions of Colombia as it is not only home to the ELN, but also their arch rivals, the paramilitary AGC group.
Both parties have clashed on numerous occasions over the past few months, causing multiple civilian casualties and several instances of mass displacement.
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The ELN, Colombia’s last-standing guerrilla group, has been fighting the Colombian state since 1964 and for decades has used kidnapping both for extortion and political purposes.
The group released its most prominent hostage, former Congressman Odin Sanchez, in February.
It is unknown how many Colombians and foreigners are currently held captive by the 1,500-men guerrilla army that has so far refused to give up kidnapping as a means to finance their organization.