The 72-hour “armed strike” initiated on Friday by the Colombian guerrilla Army National Liberation Army (ELN) paralyzed the Catatumbo region (northeast) on its first day and led anxiety in other areas of Colombia, but without causing deaths.
The armed actions of the guerrillas, announced since last weekend, affected the transport of passengers and cargo in the Catatumbo region, in the department of Norte de Santander -the most affected-, although there were also problems in departments such as Arauca and Cesar, bordering with Venezuela, and Cauca, in the southwest.
In response, Colombian President Iván Duque said Friday that the ELN is moving away from any possibility of resuming the interrupted peace dialogues because with its terrorist actions “they privilege crime and terrorism to anything else.”
“They (ELN) move away (from dialogue) with terrorism … have always moved away with terrorism,” he said.
In addition, he recalled that the Government has placed its military units on high alert to counteract and avoid the actions of insurgents, as noted by the deployment of armed soldiers in Bogotá and other parts of the country.
WAR TO DEATH BETWEEN THE ELN AND EPL WARRIORS
With the “armed strike” the ELN seeks to show its strength especially in the Catatumbo, where it fights a war to the death through that territory with a redoubt of another guerrilla, the People’s Liberation Army (EPL), considered by the Government to be a drug trafficking group.
The “armed strike”, in which the guerrillas usually restrict the circulation of vehicles, especially on roads and streets of remote villages, will go until next Monday, 17, according to pamphlets distributed in the Catatumbo by the ELN, which aims to give national character to Your threats
In the early hours of Friday, in the municipality of El Zulia (North of Santander), alleged ELN guerrillas activated explosive devices in the Pedregales sector.
They also destroyed, at the height of the town of Sardinata, two lanes of the road that connects Ocaña, second city of Norte de Santander, with Cúcuta, the regional capital.
They also shot down a cell phone tower that was under construction in the town of Hacarí with explosives and other explosive sites in the Army detonated in a controlled manner explosive charges left by the guerrillas.
In Cauca, strangers burned a truck carrying motorcycles near an indigenous shelter in the municipality of Páez.
And in Pailitas, a town in the department of Cesar, a tanker was incinerated and a bus was shot by armed men.
Given the deterioration of public order and the threats suffered by the Catatumbo people on a daily basis, authorities from several municipalities asked Duque and human rights organizations for help in order to return to normalcy.
“I call on the national government to address this serious humanitarian crisis. From the hand of the communities, I strongly urge the National Government to reach a solution to this conflict that is affecting and has confined to the Catatumbo population, “said Convention Mayor Dimar Barbosa.
The Catatumbo is a jungle and mountainous region that covers the northern half of Norte de Santander and is made up of the municipalities of Tibú, El Tarra, Sardinata, El Carmen, Convencion, Teorama, San Calixto, Ocaña, Hacarí, La Playa, Ábrego and Bucharasica
The mayor also made a “call to armed groups outside the law in confrontation: EPL and ELN to respect the life, honor and integrity of the inhabitants of Norte de Santander and the Catatumbo.”
Since the signing of the Colombian Government’s peace agreement with the FARC and the demobilization of that former guerrilla, the spaces that their fronts occupied in the Catatumbo became the subject of a dispute between the ELN and the EPL as a strategic step for traffic of cocaine to Venezuela.
The EPL Libardo Mora Toro War Front anticipated the ELN and on Wednesday began its own “armed strike” in the region, accusing the rival guerrillas of refusing to “seek a way out of the dialogue to the present conflict in that we are embarking on both organizations. “
The president of the FARC party, Rodrigo Londoño, known as “Timochenko”, rejected these actions by ensuring that he cannot agree with the “armed strike”, “because he does not consult the masses, but imposes decisions on them and precipitates the war that wants the right. “
MEASURES TO FACE CRISIS
The governor of Norte de Santander, Silvano Guerrero, sent a commission to Ocaña where on Friday they met with civil and military authorities of the Catatumbo villages, with whom they agreed on measures such as activating contingency plans to give “immediate response to humanitarian emergencies “.
With the support of international cooperation they will promote a “census of populations in condition of confinement and displacement.”
They also demanded “the ELN and the EPL respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, especially civilians and protected property such as schools, communication routes, cultivation areas, health centers and the medical mission in general.”