Colombia’s ELN on Wednesday admitted to killing 18 and capturing two members of the security forces, contradicting the government who said 12 had died in the ambush.
In a communique, the rebels reasoned the action was “in response to the high level of militarization and repression throughout the country.”
The ELN also released the names of the two captured officials, Andres Felipe Perez and Kleider Antonio Rodriguez, promising that the soldiers are in “perfect health,” and will be released “in the coming days” to the Red Cross if the government is able to quickly guarantee safe passage.
The group has been holding exploratory peace talks with the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos since before June last year. However, neither one of the warring parties has agreed to reduce violence.
In fact, the ELN has stepped up attacks this year possibly to increase their leverage at the negotiation table.
The guerrillas said that the attack “does not contradict our desire for peace but corresponds to the context of war in Colombia.”
Santos has rejected the ELN’s possible use of violence for leverage in peace talks.
“The ELN has not understood that this is a time for peace, not for war. If the ELN believes that actions like this is going to help them win political space or strengthen them ahead of an eventual [formalized] negotiation, it is completely wrong,” the president said.
Following Monday’s attack, Santos ordered the military to step up offensives targeting the country’s second largest rebel group.
The ELN (National Liberation Army), Colombia’s second largest rebel group, has been fighting the Colombian state since 1964, using the region where the attack took place as one of its main areas of control.
The group’s leadership has been negotiating with the Colombian government about the possible formalization of peace talks, but neither party has ended hostilities.