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article imageLeftist ELN rebels release Colombian soldier

By AFP     Feb 7, 2019 in World

Marxist guerrillas the ELN have released a Colombian soldier kidnapped a month ago on the border with Venezuela, the body tasked with protecting human rights in the country said Thursday.

Corporal Angel Mauricio Acevedo was handed over to a humanitarian mission run by the ombudsman and Catholic church, having been held by the ELN "armed group since January 7."

Acevedo was captured by armed men wearing civilian clothes in the northeast, a region known for coca plantations used by narcotics traffickers to produce cocaine.

It was the second liberation by ELN rebels in the last week having released on Sunday three helicopter crew members also snatched in January in the same region.

Colombia's military has stepped up its operations against the ELN since the rebel group admitted being behind a car bomb attack in the capital Bogota on January 17 that left 21 army recruits dead, as well as the bomber.

That attack drove Colombian President Ivan Duque to call off peace talks with the ELN that were started in 2017 by his predecessor Juan Manuel Santos.

"The ELN has to understand very clearly that there is no international support for what they are doing," said Eamon Gilmore, the European Union's special envoy for the Colombian peace process.

He said the police academy attack was "a shocking act of terrorism which is not acceptable in any country."

The right wing Duque insists that he will only reopen talks if the ELN releases all its hostages and ceases "criminal activity."

Those terms have been rejected as "unacceptable" by the rebels.

"The ELN has to understand that you can't just talk about peace... you have to take some actions which show that you are serious about peace," added Gilmore.

Duque, who called his meeting with Gilmore productive, said on Twitter they spoke about "progress made on implementing agreements, and productive projects."

Since Santos signed a peace accord with FARC rebels in December 2016, turning that guerrilla group into a political party, the ELN remains the only recognized rebel group in Colombia.

It has around 1,800 fighters and an extensive support network.

Bogota has repeatedly accused neighboring Venezuela's leftist regime under Nicolas Maduro of harboring guerrillas and tolerating drug-traffickers operating around the border region. Caracas denies the accusations.

Despite sharing a 2,200-kilometer (1,350 miles) long border, the two countries have had practically no diplomatic relations since 2017.

Duque was one of the first leaders to recognize opposition chief Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president after his self-declaration on January 23, another move that angered Caracas.

Colombia is also trying to help Guaido, who has launched a power struggle with Maduro, bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela despite resistence from the military.

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