The National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia’s second-largest rebel group, today claimed responsibility for the February 19 bombing in Bogota’s La Macarena neighborhood that killed one police officer and wounded 23 other police officers, as well as two civilians.
In a statement posted on the now-suspended Twitter account of the ELN’s official radio station, Radio Nacional Patria Libre, the rebel group said, “an urban guerrilla commando of the ELN attacked a police patrol with explosives.”
It said that operatives had specifically targeted Colombia’s riot police, known as the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (ESMAD), a unit ELN claims “suppresses social protests” throughout the country. Given the hostilities, ELN believes it is “urgent” to reach a bilateral ceasefire with the Colombian government. The two sides began negotiating a peace deal in Quito, Ecuador, earlier this month.
The announcement ended a week of speculation over who was behind the attack, and was met with condemnation from the Colombian government, which said the attack, and others attributed to the rebel group, were “acts of terrorism” and put the current peace talks in Ecuador at risk.
Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa said that law enforcement in the capital were working to capture those responsible and asked anyone with relevant information to contact their local authorities. He added that reaching peace would make the capital safer. “It is better to have peace so that at least this kind of thing does not happen,” said Peñalosa. “It is important that citizens remember these incidents when they try to seek political support in the future.”
Hours before claiming responsibility for the attack in La Macarena, the ELN said it was also behind a February 14 attack against a military patrol on the Bogotá-Villavicencio highway. Additionally, the group said it was responsible for an attack late December in Norte de Santander in which the ELN “neutralized” one Colombian soldier.
“If the ELN believes that it will put pressure for a bilateral ceasefire with terrorist acts like that in the Macarena, they are very mistaken,” said Juan Camilo Restrepo, the government’s chief negotiator with the ELN, on Twitter. “A ceasefire can be achieved when the ELN understands that it is reached by deescalating, not escalating, the conflict.”
The Colombian government and ELN began their peace talks on February 7, only after the rebel group released high-profile hostage Odín Sánchez. It is unclear how the new revelations will affect peace talks, which have been repeatedly delayed over kidnappings carried out by the rebel group. The government and ELN are scheduled to reconvene today.