Colombia’s second largest rebel group on Thursday admitted to attacking the campaign convoy of leftist presidential candidate Aida Avella. The politician almost immediately accepted the apology and called on the rebels to join peace talks.
The guerrilla group issued an apology through their website accepting responsibility for the attack on Avella’s car — which traveled in a convoy through the eastern state of Arauca near the Venezuelan border on the 23 February — sparking renewed safety concerns for the outspoken political leader.
The rebel group — the second largest in Colombia’s ongoing civil conflict — “clarified” the events explaining that Avella’s convoy had failed to stop when ordered to by members ELN’s “Domingo Laín Sanz” front, prompting the guerrillas to open fire.
“We deeply regret this incident and apologize to candidate Aida Abella, and we will take the necessary measures to ensure that such events do not occur again,” the group stated, confirming earlier reports by Colombian Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzon that government intelligence had intercepted ELN communications regarding the “assassination attempt”.
“I accept the apology and call on them (ELN) to begin acts of peace […] I call on them to come to the negotiation table immediately to expedite the process,” Avella said, according to W Radio.
The ELN had previously released a statement condemning the attack and, along with Avella and her Patriotic Union party (Union Patriotica – UP), blamed right-wing groups and the Colombian government, which has been heavily criticized during the recent months for its failure to guarantee the political rights of opposition politicians and political figures.
Avella has recently returned to Colombia following a forced 19-year exile after similar assassination attempts on her life during the 1990s – a period that saw approximately 4,000 members of her party killed by right-wing paramilitary groups.