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  • People take part in a candlelight vigil to honor victims, near the scene of a car bomb explosion, in Bogota, Colombia January 18, 2019.

    People take part in a candlelight vigil to honor victims, near the scene of a car bomb explosion, in Bogota, Colombia January 18, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 26 January 2019

The ELN claimed responsibility for the car bomb attack against a police academy; the ELN negotiators in Havana deny responsibility.

A judge in Colombia has ordered the arrest of five members of the National Liberation Army’s (ELN) Central Command (COCE), including chief negotiators, after a car bomb attack which left over 20 people dead at a police academy.

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“At the request of the Attorney General, a judge ordered arrest orders against members of the ELN’s COCE… as a result of the terrorist attack at the School of Cadets on Jan. 17 in Bogota,” says a statement by the national prosecutors.

Gustavo Anibal Giraldo Quinchia, or ‘Pablito,’ Eliecer Herlinto Chamorro Acosta, or ‘Antonio Garcia,’ Israel Ramirez, or ‘Pablo Beltran,’ Rafael Sierra Granados, or ‘Ramiro Vargas,’ and the guerrilla’s leader Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista, or ‘Gabino,’ make up the insurgent group’s COCE and are accused by prosecutors of planning the attack and committing human rights violations.

The ELN claimed the attack arguing that the school of cadets is used to impart training to personnel who will then take part in combat intelligence service, carry out military operations, and actively participate in counter-insurgency.

The attacks on the National Police’s compound would represent a response to military activities carried out by the Government of President Ivan Duque during the ceasefire implemented by the armed group during the Christmas and New Year celebrations, according to the ELN.

President Ivan Duque decided to terminate the dialogue process with the ELN, stagnant since he took office in 2018, reactivated arrest orders on the group’s 10 negotiators in Cuba and asked for their deportation.

Pablo Beltran, the ELN’s chief negotiator, declared that the group currently in Havana didn’t participate in the attack and asked the Cuban government to respect the protection protocols activated as part of the dialogue process.

"Our role in Cuba is to advance in the negotiations, we are not aware of the actions taking place in Colombia nor do we have any involvement in them," Beltran told Cuban state-run agency Prensa Latina on Monday.

"They should carry out the terms agreed on rather than asking the impossible of Cuba," Beltran said.

The Cuban government also declared that they would never allow its territory to be used for the planning of terrorist acts.

"Cuba will act in strict respect to the Protocols of the Peace Dialogue signed between the Government and the ELN, including the Protocol in Case of Breakdown of the Negotiation," said Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, referring to Cuba’s protocol to become a neutral party to the state’s interior differences.

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The protocols provide security guarantees for guerrilla commanders to return to Colombia and prevent military attacks for an agreed period.

The ELN commanders in Havana on Monday demanded that Cuba guarantee them safe passage back to Colombia if the talks end.

"They should carry out the terms agreed on rather than asking the impossible of Cuba," Beltran said.

Beltran accused Duque's government of delaying the talks for six months to weaken the ELN with a military offensive.

"Facing such a reality, there have been responses like that of last Thursday, but...we must continue to attempt together to end the conflict," Beltran said, adding that the negotiators would hand over all the agreements accorded so far as a departure point for future talks.

The Interpol issued a red alert hoping to extradite Beltran and negotiator Victor Orlando Cubides, or ‘Aureliano Carbonell,’ over terrorism, homicide and kidnapping charges.

The ELN members in Cuba announced they wouldn't request for asylum to the island because the group's principles.

"If we suffer political persecution for our revolutionary ideas, we go to the mountains. That's the best thing to do," said Israel Ramirez on Friday.

The peace dialogue between the Colombian government and the ELN started under the government of Juan Manuel Santos in Quito, Ecuador, and were transfered to Cuba after Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno refused to continue meditating in the conflict due problems with other armed groups in the border with Colombia.

The last round of negotiations took place on August 3 and Duque announced a halt to the process as soon as he was sworn in on Aug. 7, arguing his government had to review it and demanded the ELN a complete unilateral ceasefire as a precondition to sit at the table.

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