Recent ELN Attacks May Backfire on Rebel Group

Posted on Jul 2 2014 - 9:26am by Rico

COLOMBIA NEWS – Colombia’s ELN guerrillas have carried out several attacks since announcing their participation in preliminary peace talks with the government, a classic means of trying to strengthen their position at the negotiating table that may backfire.

On June 30, the National Liberation Army (ELN) took responsibility for a bomb detonated outside a small police station in Bogota, reported El Espectador. The attack, perpetrated on June 20, left two police officers and one civilian injured in addition to damaging nearby buildings. In a statement on its website, the ELN said the attack was carried out by guerrillas from the Eastern War Front, which operates in the department of Arauca, over 600 kilometers from Bogota.

colombia_2630492bThe ELN has also announced an armed strike to celebrate its 50-year anniversary. The group said the strike would last from July 3 to July 6 and affect businesses and roads in the departments of Arauca, Boyaca, Casanare, Santander, and Norte de Santander, all states near the Venezuelan border.

The strike was announced a day after the ELN set off explosives at an oil company complex in Arauca, seriously injuring at least 13 people. In response, Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzon called the bombing “an act of absolute cowardice” and said the ELN would not succeed in pressuring the government.

The recent ELN bombings represent a departure from the organization’s usual tactics. With its base of operations in eastern Colombia near the Venezuelan border, the organization has been characterized by its attacks on economic infrastructure, and the use of kidnapping and extortion to generate revenue.

Although the ELN frequently attacks oil wells and pipelines, targeting oil company employees is not as common. Setting off a bomb in Bogota is also highly unusual, and likely designed to draw attention to the organization in the hopes of garnering more negotiating power in preliminary peace talks with the Colombian government.

The approach may backfire, however, since President Juan Manuel Santos’ administration has vowed to continue military operations against both the ELN and the other rebel organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), until peace agreements are reached with each.

The government will also likely submit any eventual peace agreement with the ELN to a referendum. The most recent presidential elections indicated the country is deeply divided on the issue of peace, and attacks against unarmed civilians and bombings in Bogota are not going to build public support for an accord.

Source: InSight Crime Analysis