EPL ends economic shutdown in northeast Colombia

(Image: Los Andes university)

The EPL, a dissident guerrilla faction from northeast Colombia, announced Monday they will end their imposed economic shutdown in the Catatumbo region where they are at war with ELN rebels.

The group made the announcement in a video released through social media with uniformed fighters holding automatic weapons.

“We want to express to the region of Catatumbo that starting April 30 at six in the morning, the economic shutdown will be lifted,” said one EPL fighter among at least eight others, all with their faces concealed.

The “armed strike” put in force by the EPL lasted for 13 days and shut down all educative and commercial activities in the region, completely stalling the local economy.

The EPL reiterated its willingness to open talks with the ELN after almost two months of combat.

“The central command of the EPL is open to dialogue to find a solution between the two guerrilla organisations,” the rebel fighter said.

The government secretary of Norte de Santander, Edgar Payares, said while the announcement was “encouraging,” he also kept his “reservations” that the video would “not correspond to the truth.”

The ELN, the larger of the two guerrilla factions, has been at war with the EPL over access to coca plantations, oil fields and key drug smuggling routes in the region.

Despite the state’s attempt to curb the violence with an envoy of 2,000 soldiers to the lawless region, the turf war has continued to rage, leaving around 9,500 people displaced across the region’s 11 municipalities.

On Saturday, the Ministry of Interior said that 27 tons of humanitarian aid has already been deployed to the area, with further aid to be distributed to affected zones this week.

Yet, the systemic failure on behalf of the state to provide for citizens in the region has allowed criminal groups to stream in, which has affected almost all of Catatumbo’s 150,000 residents to date.

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