Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia ELN rebels 'to free two kidnapped soldiers'

Poster released by the Colombian Army calling for the release of two soldiers kidnapped by the ELN rebel group Image copyright Colombian Army
Image caption The Colombian Army has called on the rebels to release the two kidnapped soldiers

The ELN rebel group in Colombia has announced that it is planning to free two soldiers it kidnapped last week "in the coming days".

Writing on Twitter, the left-wing guerrilla group said that the soldiers were in good health.

They were seized on 26 October during a rebel ambush in which 11 soldiers and one policeman were killed.

The ELN and the government have been holding "exploratory talks" with a view to entering into peace talks.

The rebels said that the attack "does not contradict our wish for peace but has to be seen in the context of war which Colombia is experiencing, in which we suffer intense counter-guerrilla operations in our areas, which force us to respond in this way".

ELN

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Some ELN members have demobilised, but an estimated 2,000 are still fighting
  • Founded in 1964 as a Marxist guerrilla group to fight Colombia's unequal distribution of land and riches
  • Estimated to have some 2,000 active fighters
  • Its strongholds are in the provinces of Arauca, Narino and Norte de Santander
  • Finances itself through extortion, drug trafficking and kidnappings for ransom

The 12 members of the security forces were ambushed as they were returning ballot boxes from an indigenous area in Boyaca province following local elections.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The soldiers killed in the ambush were buried with military honours

Police said that after the ambush, ELN rebels booby-trapped the area around the bodies with landmines.

On Monday, the ELN sent a letter to the Colombian Bishops' Conference calling for a bilateral ceasefire between the rebels and the government.

But the government has in the past said that it wants the rebels to give up kidnapping people for good before it is willing to consider more formal peace talks.

Following last week's attack, President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the security forces to step up their attacks on the ELN.

Meanwhile, peace talks between government negotiators and Colombia's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) resumed on Monday in the Cuban capital, Havana.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has set a deadline of 23 March 2016 for a final agreement with the Farc to be signed.

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