President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the immediate return of the head of his peace delegation from Ecuador on Wednesday after rebel fighters launched several attacks hours after a cease-fire had ended.
The commander in chief of the National Liberation Army (ELN), Pablo Beltránm said,“The incidents which occurred today in Eastern Colombia, took place in the midst of the complex situation of conflict from which the country suffers; but in spite of them, we should not stray the course of the conversations, to reach a political exit to the conflict.”
The attacks in the early hours Wednesday in the regions of Boyaca, Casanare and Arauca damaged sections of an oil pipeline and injured two naval cadets.
“The national government deplores the ELN’s decision to renew their terrorist attacks against the civilian population, the armed forces and infrastructure,” Santos told reporters. “The government has always been willing to prolong the ceasefire with this organization and to negotiate a new one.”
He vowed to respond with military force to provocations. “Our armed forces have been given the order to act swiftly to respond to this aggression and protect life and the honor of all Colombia, as is their constitutional duty,” Santos said.
UN chief Antonio Gutteres will go to Colombia this weekend in an attempt to prop up the peace efforts in meetings with Santos and other government officials.
The cease-fire between the government and the ELN had been in place for 101 days but expired at midnight Tuesday with both sides voicing a desire to negotiate a further truce.
The ELN that was formed in 1964 is Colombia’s remaining guerrilla group with less than 2,000 combatants after the larger Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia, or FARC, signed a peace agreement in Nov. 2016.
A fifth round of peace talks with the ELN was planned to begin Wednesday in Ecuador, but with the withdrawal of Colombia’s lead negotiator the future of any talks is in doubt.
Santos, whose presidency has been defined by working for peace, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016, has months remaining in office before presidential elections later this year and his exit from office.
The ELN and the government have accused each other of violating the truce and the rebels claim government military operations continue in regions where they have camps.