The ELN has been in peace negotiations with the Colombian government in Quito, Ecuador, since February.
The death toll of rebels from Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla army, the ELN, killed in a military operation in the country’s Norte de Santander department has risen to 10, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas confirmed Monday.
The ELN belonging to the sixth commission of the group’s Northeastern Front, were killed during a military operation that bombed their camp. Previous reports claimed eight guerillas were killed.
Colombian Army General Juan Pablo Rodriguez claimed a guerrilla fighter known as “Gabino” was killed during the operation, which took place in the small town of El Carmen. As it turned out, it was not ELN Commander Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista, better known by his alias Gabino, who was killed, as first reported. Instead, it was another ELN member who also goes by the nom de guerre “Gabino.”
Authorities seized seven rifles, six pistols, 70 landmines, nine hand grenades, 32 suppliers and four communication radios in the operation, EFE reported.
“One of the most important threats in this northeastern part of the country is breaking up,” Villegas said, according to Colombia’s El Tiempo. “With the operation ‘Corsair III,’ one of the tools of war used by the Northeastern Front of the ELN is dismantled.”
Meanwhile, in Quito, Ecuador, peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the ELN are taking place, with both sides announcing progress. Chief negotiator for the ELN, Pablo Beltran, said that the guerilla group hopes to make an announcement about a landmine removal deal on April 7 — the date set for the end of the first round of talks.
The ELN and the Colombian government are both “looking for ways to reduce the intensity of the conflict,” Beltran told Caracol Radio earlier this week. The guerilla leader said that the next round of peace talks will have a humanitarian focus as well as the participation of civil society.
Many are skeptical about the success of talks, however, given that the Colombian Army is still attacking the guerilla force. Moreover, right-wing paramilitary groups that frequently work alongside the country’s government are killing Indigenous leaders and human rights activists across the country, casting a shadow on the much-anticipated new era of peace following a historic end-of-conflict agreement with the FARC, the largest rebel group.
In a communique issued last month, the ELN clarified that the over 50-year-old conflict in the country was rooted in state violence and state terrorism, instead of the common belief that state violence was the consequence of the armed conflict.
The National Liberation Army, or ELN, is thought to have around 1,500 active members and has been fighting since 1964. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, are currently in the process of laying down their weapons and demobilizing as part of implementing its peace accords with the government.
Colombia’s armed forces killed at least 10 guerrillas from the ELN group, the defense ministry said Monday. A joint operation between the Second Division of the army, Police and Air Force bombed and attacked an ELN camp in El Carmen, Norte de Santander on Sunday.
According to Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, the operation reached “the heart” of one of the ELN’s most important camps in El Carmen, leaving 10 guerrillas dead and three government soldiers with minor injuries.
“This is an extremely important operation because it thwarts one of the biggest threats in this part of the country. Operation ‘Corsario III’ is what gave the results, and moreover dismantles one of the war units of the ELN’s Northeastern Front,” Villegas said.
The military offensive began late Saturday night when ground troops entered the area. Following the bombardment, the army forces overran the camp, according to newspaper El Espectador.
“The operation is still under development,” an anonymous military source told Spanish news agency EFE on Monday.
The offensive comes in the middle of peace talks between the group and the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and after several deadly attacks carried out by Colombia’s last-standing guerrilla group.
Santos took to Twitter to congratulate the minister and the army for the “hard blow” allegedly dealt to the ELN .
Felicito a @mindefensa y a las Fuerzas Armadas por el duro golpe que dieron contra Eln en Norte de Santander.
— Juan Manuel Santos (@JuanManSantos) April 2, 2017