Colombia nationalist rebels plan to protest over peace talks suspension


BOGOTA: Colombia’s ELN rebel group said on Wednesday it would hold a three-day national blockade beginning over the weekend to protest the government’s suspension of peace negotiations, and urged Colombians to avoid travel.

The government and the National Liberation Army (as in Spanish, Ejército de Liberación Nacional ELN) have been in talks since February 2017 to end a five-decade war, but President Juan Manuel Santos suspended the negotiations last week after a series of rebel attacks killed at least seven police over one weekend.

The blockade, unlikely to be heeded by most of the country, will begin at 6 am (1100 GMT) on Saturday, ending at the same hour on Feb 13, the ELN said in a statement. All rebel units will comply with the order, it added.

In western Colombia, especially coastal Choco province where the group is active, citizens are encouraged not to travel, the statement said, as transport on roads and waterways will be halted.

“We call on transporters and passengers to abstain from traveling to avoid inconveniences,” the statement said.

The government rejected the move and said it would continue to battle the ELN.

“With this threat, the ELN has adopted tactics which we thought were exclusive to organized crime,” Defence Minister Luis Carlos Villegas told journalists.

The 2,000-strong ELN and the government agreed to their first-ever ceasefire in October, but the rebels launched a new offensive when it expired in early January, killing security force members, bombing major oil pipelines and kidnapping an oil contractor.

The Cano Limon pipeline has been halted for nearly a month because of ELN bombs, including one detonated on Monday.

The government signed a peace deal with the larger guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), in late 2016. The group is now a political party.