Colombia ELN FotoA leader of one of Colombia’s main rebel groups was killed during a clash between guerrilla fighters and the country’s army, military sources said.

During a military operation in the southwestern Colombian department of Cauca, the leader of the National Liberation Army’s Camilo Cienfuegos brigade —known only by his nom de guerre, Omar”— was killed when his company was attacked by the Colombian military in an operation that also netted the seizure of 10 rifles, a mortar grenade launcher, two pistols, ammunition, land mines, grenades and uniforms of the national police and army.

The deceased ELN leader was a member of the guerrilla group for 17 years and was purportedly heavily involved in the group’s extortion racket and cocaine production.

In recent years, much of Colombia’s cocaine trafficking operations have been taken over by guerrilla groups such as the ELN and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish).

“Omar” was also allegedly a confidant of the guerrilla group’s main leader, alias “El Gato,” leading Colombian officials to state that his death was a “blow” to the organizational structure of the ELN.

A Marxist-Leninist guerrilla movement, the ELN is the Andean nation’s second largest left-wing rebel group, behind the FARC. The group’s numbers have dwindled since its inception in 1964 and are now believed to be between 1,500 and 2,500 fighters, although the ELN claims to have around 5,000.

The ELN has not been involved in the peace talks currently underway between the FARC and the Colombian government, but has voiced its willingness to join the conversation. The rebels have prepared a negotiating team, but have not begun exploratory talks with the government.

In the past the ELN has engaged in peace talks the Colombian government, most recently beginning in 2005. The talks came to an end in 2007 when it was announced that the ELN and the Colombian government had “two different conceptions of peace and methods to get to it.”

The group has also attempted to join forces with the FARC to strengthen both guerrilla movements forces, but no progress has been made between the two.

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