Feb. 1 (UPI) -- The Colombian army said one soldier was killed and two were injured after a firefight with National Liberation Army, or ELN, rebels ahead of the latest attempt to restart peace negotiations with the government.
The incident occurred late Monday in the Norte de Santander Department's Catatumbo region, which borders Venezuela. The deceased Colombian soldier was identified as John Manuel Téllez Delgado.
The injured soldiers were transported to the city of Cúcuta to receive medical treatment. The Colombian army said the soldiers were attacked while protecting a pipeline in the rural El Carmen municipality that carries crude oil from eastern Colombia to the Caribbean Sea. The pipeline has been attacked nearly a dozen times in January.
Peace talks between the ELN rebel group and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos' administration have been frozen since March over the subject of hostages. The government put forth an ultimatum demanding the ELN release all hostages before peace talks could begin, but the ELN was reluctant to comply.
The ELN said it would release the last hostage it holds -- Colombian Congressman Odin Sanchez -- on Thursday with the hope of re-engaging in peace negotiations with the government Tuesday.
No official announcement suggesting the negotiation process has been affected by the incident has been released by either the ELN or the Colombian government.
The ELN, like the FARC rebel group, began as a Marxist-inspired insurgency in the 1960s. It was never as large or as powerful as FARC, but like FARC, its members engaged in drug-trafficking, kidnapping and other illegal activity to fund their campaign against the government.
There are an estimated 2,500 ELN rebels living mostly in Colombia's rural, mountainous areas. More than 220,000 people have died and about 5 million have been internally displaced due to the Colombian conflict, primarily attributed to FARC, since its founding in 1964.