Colombia’s Marxist guerrilla, the 4,000-strong National Liberation Army (ELN) has warned civilians not to travel during three days in February as they launch a military offensive.
In a statement released by the guerrilla’s Central Command (COSE) and datelined from the “Mountains of Colombia,” the guerrilla will wage a “Paro Armado” from 6 am on February 10 to 6 am February 13. According to their statement, “all command units of ELN are ready to follow through on this order.”
Colombia’s last remaining insurgency has extended their blockade to include all “roads, rivers, sea and air routes.” The guerrilla has advised passengers and transport companies to abide by their no-travel restriction to avoid any “inconvenience.”
Among the points ELN cites for their offensive is the “government’s refusal to give continuity to the fifth cycle of peace talks in Quito.” Peace talks with the ELN were suspended by President Juan Manuel Santos last month after the guerrilla claimed responsibility for bombing three police stations along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, including one in a Barranquilla suburb, during the weekend of January 27 which killed seven officers and injured 40.
The rebels accuse the Colombian government of “state terrorism” against human rights activists and trade unionists. This is the first Paro Armado by ELN since formal peace talks began with the Colombian government in February 2017.
Addressing the media Wednesday from the grounds of the Presidential Palace, Colombia’s Minister of Defense Luis Carlos Villegas rebuked the ELN’s call to arms, saying: “It is unacceptable that they pretend to threaten the state, the government, by using violence against civilians.”
“This is the biggest contradiction in their alleged search for peace,” remarked Villegas. The minister went on the assure Colombians that the Army and National Police will “protect the integrity of the state 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, with force and resolution.”
The country’s last remaining guerrilla group was founded in 1964 by Roman Catholic priests Camilo Torres and Manuel Pérez.
The group launches attacks against the country’s oil and gas infrastructure, mainly the Caño-Limon Coveñas pipeline.
In October 1998, the guerrilla detonated the Ocensa pipeline in northwestern Antioquia, which set fire to the town of Machuca killing 45 civilians.
ELN has orchestrated mass kidnappings such as the hijacking of a commercial airliner in April 1999 and abduction of an entire church congregation in Cali, Valle del Cauca, that same year.