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  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos looks on at a group of ELN soldiers who demobilized in 2013. The rebel army is now in peace talks.

    Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos looks on at a group of ELN soldiers who demobilized in 2013. The rebel army is now in peace talks. | Photo: EFE

Published 27 February 2017

The ELN, the government and far-right political leaders have taken starkly different positions on the attack and how it impacts the peace process.

Accepting responsibility for a recent attack on a riot police squad, Colombia's second largest guerrilla army, the ELN, urged the government Monday to speed up the peace process in order to reach a bilateral cease-fire, saying the bomb attack was meant to call attention to the urgency of an end-of-conflict agreement.

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"We reiterate to the national government the urgency of an immediate bilateral cease-fire, as diverse sectors of Colombian society have asked for," the National Liberation Army, or ELN, said in a statement.

The ELN claimed responsibility for an attack against a riot police squad on Feb. 19 in the La Macarena neighborhood in Bogota. At least 26 officers were injured in the attack, and three days after the explosion police Officer Albeiro Garibello Alvarado died in hospital.

In a statement, the ELN said the attack was carried out "by an ELN rebel urban command." The attack occurred just hours before the last bullfighting event of this season in Bogota, close to the Santamaria Plaza.

The ELN also criticized President Juan Manuel Santos' administration, tweeting that "it isn't coherent on the part of the government to sit at the table talking about peace while putting off the bilateral cease-fire and keeping the population under war."

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The group raised particular concern about violence against human rights defenders, which saw at least 80 activists killed in 2016 alone, according to a recent report by Somos Defensores. The rebels added that a bilateral cease-fire "will create a favorable environment and will alleviate life and humanitarian conditions especially in the conflict zones."

The government's lead negotiator in the peace talks with the guerrilla, Juan Camilo Restrepo, said that if the ELN believes that it will effectively press the government for a bilateral cease-fire with "terrorist acts" like this, then they "are very wrong."

Meanwhile, former far-right President Alvaro Uribe — the staunchest opponent of peace processes with guerrilla armies — took to Twitter in the wake of the attack to criticize the government's peace talks with the ELN and suggest that the negotiations should be called off.

Santos' government and the ELN began on Feb. 7 a process of public dialogues aimed at ending the internal armed conflict that has lasted more than 50 years. The talks are being held in Quito, Ecuador, which is one of the guarantor countries, along with Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Norway and Venezuela.

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