ELN Resumes Attacks on Colombian State and Ongoing Risks
12 Jan 2018
A negotiated ceasefire period between the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) and the Colombian government ended on 10 January 2017, bringing to a close a period of 102 days with no sanctioned ELN attacks on Colombia’s infrastructure or security forces. ELN cells carried out a series of attacks across the country on 10 January, targeting a number of security posts in Arauca and a major oil well near Casanare in the east of the country. At least two marines were wounded in these attacks, and the oil supply disrupted.
- ELN cells launched a series of attacks immediately following the expiry of the ceasefire 10 January.
- The Colombian government has sought to extend the ceasefire and continue negotiations.
- The ELN is the last insurgent force within Colombia with national reach, and maintains close ties to narcotics gangs.
Armed Conflict: A negotiated ceasefire period between the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) and the Colombian government ended on 10 January 2017, bringing to a close a period of 102 days with no sanctioned ELN attacks on Colombia’s infrastructure or security forces. ELN cells carried out a series of attacks across the country on 10 January, targeting a number of security posts in Arauca and a major oil well near Casanare in the east of the country. At least two marines were wounded in these attacks, and the oil supply disrupted.
The Colombian government immediately withdrew its negotiators from talks in Ecuador, stating that the attacks demonstrated that the ELN rejected the peace process, despite the group’s public statements to the contrary.
Solace Global Comment
Despite the much-publicised peace deal with the FARC rebels which came into force during 2017, Colombia continues to have a number of active insurgent groups, including smaller dissident cells of the FARC and, most notably, the nationally organised ELN. Following the political settlement with the FARC, the ELN’s leaders sought to negotiate a similar peace deal; facilitated by disarmament, an amnesty system, and a framework for political integration.
The failure of the ELN to continue the ceasefire was unexpected, given their previous statements concerning the positive effects the ceasefire had on their local communities. Some tensions had, however, remained apparent throughout the ceasefire; both Government and ELN forces remain accused of violating the ceasefire’s terms in isolated cases. The ELN admitted responsibility for the assassination of at least one indigenous leader during the ceasefire, and has laid accusations towards the army concerning the unlawful killing of seven coca farmers in ELN-supporting regions. However, neither of these events led to a restoration of hostilities.
It is likely that these attacks were intended to demonstrate to the government that the ELN’s capitulation was not a given, and that their troops retained the ability and will to fight, potentially enhancing the group’s negotiating position. Despite the government’s withdrawal from negotiations, this may still prove to be effective; the government has little choice politically, but to continue to sue for peace eventually, even if warfare resumes over the short term. President Santo’s reputation and mandate is based upon a reputation as a peace-maker, backed by his Nobel Peace Prize for the FARC deal; a failure to pursue a deal with the ELN will substantially undermine his political capital.
Travellers should note that, despite ongoing peace efforts between rebel groups and the government, various armed insurgent and criminal groups within Colombia clash frequently due to rivalries concerning territory, income, or the drug supply chain. At least two civilians were killed, and six wounded, on 08 January during such an exchange between FARC dissidents and a local ELN cell near Policarpa. It is unclear whether any insurgents were killed in the fighting. This has also highlighted that, despite the peace deal, elements of the FARC remain armed, in opposition to their central leadership, leading to a series of fragmented armed groups operating in local areas throughout the country. It appears unlikely that the FARC elements who have remained armed continue to receive central coordination. It is possible that their continued armed activity is related to their links with the drug trade, rather than the FARC’s national political cause.
There is significant evidence that some elements of the ELN have used the ceasefire as an opportunity to expand involvement in the production and shipment of illegal narcotics, focussing resources which had targeted state assets against rival criminal groups. Significant numbers of Army and Air Force troops were redeployed to Narino, a key narcotics hub, on 08 January, immediately before the end of the ceasefire. The actions carried out by ELN in other regions may have been an effort to draw these troops away from Narino and ease pressure on activities in the area.
Although reporting suggests a recent decline in activity, Travellers should remain aware that groups across Colombia, including the ELN, have made extensive use of kidnap for ransom as part of their funding model. Typically, these have been targeted against locals in their area of operations in coordination with extortion and protection rackets. Foreign travellers, particularly journalists, have been targeted, with a team of Dutch journalists abducted from a rural area near the Venezuelan border in mid-2017. Kidnap is often facilitated by poor road conditions, which oblige vehicles to travel at low speeds and pass frequent bottle-necks. With the present continuation of hostilities, an increase in kidnap activity is probable.
It is highly likely that the Colombian government will enhance security operations around key items of national infrastructure and in known insurgent hotspots. This is likely to be supported by a series of counter insurgency operations in the impacted areas in order to neutralise the cells responsible for these attacks. Major urban areas are unlikely to be impacted by the increase in violence; insurgent and groups in Colombia typically operate in remote, rural, locations where the low population density hinders military or law enforcement operations, whilst providing the groups with a permissive environment.
SECURITY ADVICEArmed ConflictModerate
Travellers are advised to maintain a low profile throughout Colombia. Overt displays of wealth may mark travellers out as potential targets for robbery or kidnap. Travel beyond major cities should be carefully planned, all efforts should be taken to avoid areas of recent insurgent activity; travellers should monitor local media and seek local advice if necessary.
Where possible, travellers should seek to avoid staying in immediate proximity to government sites, military facilities, or critical national infrastructure; these locations are most likely to be targeted by insurgent groups.
Solace Global would advise clients to employ enhanced security measures when visiting Colombia â airport meet and greet and a security driver for the length of a visit should be minimum security precaution. Travellers may also wish to employ executive protection, particularly if travelling beyond major cities. Travellers are also strongly advised to make use of intelligence feed and travel tracking software, this may offer an employer an effective means of executing duty of care, and enhance the travellersâ situational awareness.
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