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article imageColombia rebels suspected in deadly police blasts

By AFP     Jan 28, 2018 in World

Colombia's last rebel group is suspected of weekend bombings that killed seven police and injured dozens of others, days after the government sought a new ceasefire.

Authorities initially blamed drug gangs over the attacks which began early Saturday in the northern coastal city of Barranquilla.

Five police officers were killed and 41 injured by a bomb that exploded at their station during the morning roll call.

It was one of the deadliest attacks on security personnel in recent years.

After a peace deal in November 2016 between the government and the country's largest insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), President Juan Manuel Santos's government had been in talks with the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN), hoping to write the final chapter in the South American nation's half-century of conflict.

Those talks broke down after the ELN began an offensive this month.

The National Urban War Front of the ELN said in a statement at that it carried out the Barranquilla attack.

Rebel sources said they are investigating whether the text is authentic. They confirmed that the webpage is linked to the ELN, which began its offensive at the end of a 101-day ceasefire.

Santos said on January 21 that he would seek a new truce in a bid to salvage peace talks with the ELN.

The rebels had indicated a willingness to resume negotiations.

But the ELN, unlike FARC, has a federated structure with autonomous military units, which experts say makes a settlement more difficult.

Santos said the "authenticity of the supposed communique is to be confirmed."

A Colombian police officer mourns on January 28  2018 during a vigil in tribute to five colleagues k...
A Colombian police officer mourns on January 28, 2018 during a vigil in tribute to five colleagues killed during a bombing in Barranquilla, one of the deadliest attacks in years against security forces

A 31-year-old man was taken into custody after the Barranquilla attack, which cast a pall over preparations for the annual carnival, a major attraction in the bustling Caribbean port city.

- A city bombed again -

Barranquilla Mayor Alejandro Char had earlier said the blast was "in retaliation against so many good blows that the police have landed not only on drug traffickers in Barranquilla, but also outside the city."

Other weekend bombings also targeted police.

Two officers died in a blast shortly before midnight Saturday at a small outpost in Santa Rosa, a municipality in the northern area of Bolivar, authorities said.

Police said the bomb was attached to the side of the outpost.

"Most likely is that this comes from the National Liberation Army," Santa Rosa mayor Delmar Burgo told AFP.

Barranquilla, a city of more than one million people, was then hit again on Sunday.

Unidentified assailants struck a police station with explosives, wounding four police and a civilian, an official told AFP.

"A possible link to yesterday's attack is being investigated," the official said.

Santos ordered security in the city to be stepped up with an additional 1,500 police.

"We will not rest until we find those responsible, my solidarity is with the families of the victims and the wounded," he wrote on his Twitter account.

Rodrigo Londono, the former leader of the FARC guerrilla group and now its candidate in presidential elections this year, also "vehemently" condemned the Barranquilla attack.

"All our solidarity is for the relatives of the slain police," he wrote on Twitter.

After signing the peace deal, FARC disarmed and transformed into a political party.

Candles  flowers and a boot displayed on January 28  2018 during a vigil in tribute to five police k...
Candles, flowers and a boot displayed on January 28, 2018 during a vigil in tribute to five police killed during an attack in Barranquilla, suspected to be the work of ELN rebels

The rebel groups were established in 1964 to fight for land rights and protect poor rural communities.

Over subsequent decades, the conflict drew in paramilitary groups and state forces in what became a many-sided war fueled by drug trafficking.

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