Colombian president vows crackdown against ELN rebels

President Juan Manuel Santos said he gave the order after the group was blamed for a Monday attack against the Colombian military.
By Fred Lambert  |  Feb. 9, 2016 at 4:20 PM
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BOGOTA, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has ordered the military to intensify operations against the National Liberation Army, or ELN.

Santos reportedly ordered the crackdown Monday after an attack against a military brigade in the northern state of Arauca, where the ELN is known to operate.

The ELN is Colombia's second-largest rebel group behind the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which has been involved in peace negotiations with the Bogota government in Havana since 2012.

The ELN and Colombian government have for the past two years engaged in preparatory talks to set the stage for more formal negotiations, but both sides accuse each other of stalling the process in recent weeks.

"The ELN is dead wrong if it thinks that with attacks like this it can smooth the path to peace," the BBC quoted Santos as saying. "If they think it will strengthen their position at the negotiating table, they are totally mistaken."

Like the FARC, the ELN was founded in 1964 as a Marxist guerrilla group opposed to Colombia's privatization of natural resources and unequal distribution of land and wealth. It is estimated to have about 2,000 fighters in the Norte de Santander, Arauca and Narino states.

Santos' vow comes two weeks after the United Nations Security Council agreed to form an unarmed political mission that would monitor a bilateral cease-fire between the FARC and the Colombian government.

Negotiators in Havana hope to have a peace deal signed by March 23.

However, many -- including the head negotiator of the FARC -- have noted peace cannot be achieved in Colombia's decades-old conflict unless the ELN strikes a similar deal with Bogota.

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