April 24 (UPI) -- Colombia's National Liberation Army rebel group said hostage Voskanya Arcen Levoni, a Russian-Armenian wildlife trafficker, has escaped.
The rebel group, also identified as the ELN, said it captured Arcen Levoni in November in the jungle region of the Choco Department while he was "collecting poisonous frogs to traffic them on the international market."
The ELN said that on Wednesday, its Cimarrón Guerrilla Front was transporting Arcen Levoni to an area to carry out a "safe release operation." Arcen Levoni disarmed a militant and attacked the ELN unit, injuring five. Arcen Levoni escaped with injuries near the Alto Baudó municipality in Chocó.
The ELN said it had been negotiating with Russia's Embassy in Colombia to release Arcen Levoni.
"We regret not having been able to successfully conclude the release of Voskanya Arcen Levoni, of Russian-Armenian nationality," the ELN said in a statement Saturday.
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, which is primarily attributed to FARC since its founding in 1964.
The FARC rebel group struck a peace deal with the Colombian government. The ELN is taking part in negotiations with the Colombian government to reach a similar deal.