Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla group has claimed responsibility for an explosion last week that injured dozens of policemen and left one dead in the heart of this capital city, casting a shadow over ongoing peace talks with the group.
In a statement posted on one of its social media accounts, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, said its “urban commandos” had placed the explosive on Feb. 19 near Bogotá’s iconic bullring that injured almost 30 people and killed one security officer.
Last week, the ELN had denied involvement in the attack.
The attack came as the ELN and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos began meeting earlier this month in Ecuador in hopes of hammering out a peace deal that would allow the 53-year-old guerrilla group to lay down its arms.
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The administration’s policy when negotiating with guerrillas has been to maintain military pressure. In its communiqué, the ELN said it “urgently” wanted a ceasefire.
“It’s not coherent for the government to sit down at the table and talk peace, while it delays a bilateral ceasefire,” the group said.
The ELN also said the attack was directed at riot police, known as the ESMAD, who they accused of using excessive force to “repress” demonstrators. In the weeks leading up to the attack, the ESMAD had been called out to control animal rights groups that were protesting against the renewal of bullfights.
The ELN’s claims will renew pressure on the administration to break off talks.
“What’s Santos waiting for to suspend the talks with this criminal organization [the ELN]?” opposition Sen. Ernesto Macías wrote on Twitter Monday. “More murders?”
Last year, the government completed peace talks with the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, which earned Santos a Nobel Peace Prize.
But the ELN have been harder to bring to the table. The group was founded in 1964, the same year as the FARC, and combined Marxist-Leninist ideology with liberation theology. Some of its initial recruits came from the Catholic Church, including Camilo Torres, a charismatic priest who died in 1966 during his first battle.