The Colombian government is bolstering its military presence in eastern Colombia after months of escalating hostilities and rebel attacks, including Tuesday’s bombing of a major oil pipeline, according to official reports.
Colombia’s national police are working with the air force to restore public order in the eastern state of Arauca, bordering Venezuela, after months of increasing violence and attacks on infrastructure by armed groups operating in the area, according to reports from Colombia’s Ministry of Defense.
Arauca is the stronghold of Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group, the ELN, which has been fighting the Colombian government for 50 years.
According to eyewitness reports, the most affected areas of the state are the towns of Saravena, on the border with Venezuela, Arauquita, Fortul, and Cubara, in the neighboring state of Boyaca.
In addition to attacks on infrastructure, Saravena has seen 13 civilian murders within the last two weeks, according to reports by El Tiempo.
Tuesday’s attack on the Bicentenario oil pipeline in Fortul is the most recent in a series of strikes on infrastructure attributed to the ELN. The ELN has long targeted oil and mining extraction infrastructure as part of an offensive against the Colombian state and foreign business interests.
Earlier Tuesday morning, eight soldiers died after an attack by rebels with an explosive device.
Between June and July, the ELN claimed responsibility for three attacks on the Caño-Limon pipeline in Arauquita, the last of which resulted in the injury of 13 civilians.
A statement released by the ELN on July 7 boasted that the attacks “were done in broad daylight, against the most fortified Arauca facilities, guarded by the army, police, and military advisers of the United States.”
While the ELN claimed that civilian injuries were “incidental,” Colombia’s minister of mining accused the rebel group of specifically targeting civilian populations.
The Colombian military also says the ELN is responsible for poisoning several military personnel last week, claiming that a guerrilla disguised as a local resident sold the soldiers meat found to be laced with industrial pesticides, resulting in the death of one soldier.
According to a report released by Maplecroft Terrorism and Security Dashboard (MTSD), a global analytics company, the ELN is apparently attacking energy infrastructures to pressure the Colombian government to begin peace talks.
In June, just before Colombia’s second round of presidential elections, the government announced much-awaited peace talks with the ELN. Since then, however, momentum has apparently stalled, and no concrete details have been released as to the date or location of the negotiations.
Increase in violence, civilian murders
There have been at least 13 murders in Saravena within the last two weeks, including the shooting death of the Secretary of Development by an unknown assailant just 54 yards from a police station. A bodyguard with the National Protection Unit was killed in the crossfire.
Over the weekend, the former mayor of Cubara was kidnapped and then killed.
Colombian Chief of Police General Rodolfo Palomino has offered $53,ooo for any information aiding the investigation of these murders.
The National Police blame the ELN for the shooting death of a six-year old girl, again in front of a police station, on July 19.
While the Colombian government has pinned these incidents on on the ELN, a journalist in the state capital told Colombia Reports that there are other armed criminal groups operating in the area.
“Every day, people are dying at the hands of armed gangs,” Carmen Rosa Pabon told Colombia Reports.
There are over 30 criminal groups, also known as “Bacrim,” that emerged following the 2006 demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the country’s main right-wing paramilitary organization.
According to Saravena reporter Magali Reyes, officials are investigating the attempted kidnapping of a government official by someone identifying themselves as part of regional neo-paramilitary group ACC (Autodefensas Campesinas Casanares).
- Recompensa por responsables de ola de asesinatos en Arauca (El Tiempo)
- Gobierno colombiano incrementará presencia del ejército en Arauca (BBC Mundo)
- Interview with Magali Reyes
- Interview with Carmen Rosa Pabon, newschief, La Voz de Cinaruco