By Richard McColl
The ELN guerrilla group an Monday admitted responsibility for a deadly bomb attack here earlier this month that killed a policeman and injured 26 other officers and civilians.
The group said via a statement read on radio that the Feb. 19 attack was aimed at riot police "for being exclusively in charge of repressing social demonstrations all over the country and treating popular demands as if in a war”.
That explanation, however, rang hollow with the government that is currently conducting peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN).
“If the ELN believes that through acts of terrorism like this one in Bogotá’s Macarena district, it is going to pressure the government into agreeing to a bilateral ceasefire it is sorely mistaken,” said Juan Camilo Restrepo, chief government negotiator on peace talks with the ELN. “A ceasefire will be reached when the ELN understands that this point is reached by scaling back the conflict, not increasing it,” he said on Twitter.
The ELN is the last active guerrilla group in Colombia after the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed a peace deal last year with the state.
The ELN formed in 1964 and was the smaller of the two remaining guerrilla groups in Colombia. In 2016, it agreed to peace talks with the government but those plans were suspended after a regional lawmaker was kidnapped. Negotiations began again Feb. 7 in Quito, Ecuador.
Despite the attack, the ELN said it was committed to finding a peace deal. “Joint measures must be taken to reduce the intensity of the conflict,” said Pablo Beltrán the group’s chief negotiator in Quito. “We are seeking a bilateral ceasefire,” continued Beltrán.
The group numbers approximately 2,500 combatants around the country that routinely attack infrastructure and, in particular, an oil pipeline near to the border with Venezuela.
The rebel group is believed to have carried out at least 10 armed attacks since the end of 2016.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for his work to achieve a peace deal with the FARC, has pushed for negotiations with the ELN to get underway to complete a “complete peace” in Colombia.