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ELN Rebels Put Colombia’s Armistice in Jeopardy with Killing of 9 Soldiers

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The National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels killed nine Colombian soldiers in an attack near the border with Venezuela on Wednesday, threatening the ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the rebels.

The attack, one of the most serious in recent months, took place in a rural area of ​​the municipality of El Carmen in Colombia’s Norte de Santander province, an area important for coca cultivation and cocaine production.

The Colombian president “summoned” government peace negotiators after the dawn attack.

Gustavo Petro said in a tweet on Twitter that the perpetrators of the attack were people “still very far from peace” after five months of negotiations with the National Liberation Army.

The country’s first left-wing president issued a “total denunciation” of the attack and called on government negotiators to “consult” with the guarantor states.

“The peace process must be serious and responsible towards Colombian society,” the president said.

Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez said Petro called the talks to “discuss this really serious event” and described it as an “attack on peace.”

Before the meeting with Petro, Colombian Peace Commissioner Danilo Rueda did not rule out suspending negotiations after the events, which he said “avoid peacebuilding.”

“Health decisions will be taken for the sake of the country,” he told reporters.

Peace be upon you

Army Commander Helder Giraldo said the soldiers were patrolling one of the country’s largest oil pipelines, which has been frequently targeted by the ELN.

They are not deployed offensively.

Officials said that most of the soldiers were young men in their twenties doing compulsory military service.

Giraldo said the army would conduct “operations in the area against those responsible”.

Colombia has suffered more than half a century of armed conflict between the state and various groups of left-wing rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and drug traffickers.

Fighting has continued despite a peace agreement that saw the FARC disarm in 2017.

With armed groups squabbling over the proceeds from the lucrative drug trade and other illegal businesses, the Indipase research institute reported nearly 100 massacres in Colombia last year.

The government has resumed peace talks with the National Liberation Army, the last active guerrilla group in Colombia, after Petro took power last August pledging to bring “complete peace” to the violence-torn country.

Petro’s conservative predecessor, Ivan Duque, broke off talks with the ELN after a car bomb attack on a police academy in Bogota in 2019 left 22 dead.

The ELN was involved in failed negotiations with the last five presidents of Colombia.

‘Give up’

On New Year’s Eve, Petro announced that an armistice had been agreed with the country’s five largest armed groups, including the National Liberation Army, from January 1 to June 30.

The others were two splinter factions of the now-disbanded FARC, the Gulf drug group, and the Sierra Nevada Self-Defense Forces, a right-wing paramilitary organization.

However, the NLA promptly refuted any such deal, forcing the government to back down.

Hostilities continued and the army reported several attacks on its members by the National Liberation Army.

Last September, FARC dissidents killed seven police officers in the central province of Huila.

Several NLA fighters have also been killed and captured in military operations in recent months.

Earlier this month, the government suspended the truce with the Gulf Clan – the country’s largest drug cartel – over attacks on civilians and military personnel.

The opposition in Colombia often criticizes the president for the concessions he is willing to make for the sake of peace.

Defeated right-wing challenger Federico Gutierrez said on Wednesday that a “comprehensive peace” cannot mean the country’s surrender “to criminal groups.

Talks with the ELN have been held in Caracas and Mexico City, and another round is planned in Cuba, although the date has not yet been announced.

And earlier this month, the two sides agreed to hold ceasefire talks as well.

Founded in 1964 by trade unionists and students inspired by Marxist revolutionary icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara and the Cuban Revolution, the NLA counts around 3,500 fighters.

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