The threat of violence by Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), in the northeastern department of Arauca has paralyzed transport there and in other areas, as bus drivers refuse to take to the roads
In a statement made last Thursday, the rebel group’s Eastern Front said it was “breaking with the military principles of secrecy and surprise factor,” and would run a 72-hour “armed strike” between July 3 and July 6, El Colombiano newspaper reported.
Their aim is to block transport and trade in the areas they have influence — mainly the Colombian departments that border Venezuela — including Arauca, Boyacá, Casanare, Santander and Norte de Santander, the report said.
The point of the so-called “armed strike” is to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the Marxist rebel group’ s founding, the ELN said in a communique.
Overland travel to, from, and within Arauca has ground to a halt, and has also been severely disrupted in the other departments. Bus drivers fear reprisals from the guerrillas if they “violate” the armed strike by driving in and around the region.
Colombian army troops have been deployed along inter-municipal roadways in several departments to boost security, but drivers still refuse to leave the bus terminals, stranding thousands of residents in the ‘hot zones’ by preventing them from travelling, Blu Radio reported last week.
Arauca Governor Jose Facundo Castillo called on the residents of his department to report any suspicious activity in an effort to prevent guerrilla attacks, the report said.
Despite gestures made by the group in recent months showing their willingness to enter into peace dialogues with the government, the ELN has continued its attacks on infrastructure installations around the country, including the bombing of a police station in Bogota last month that left three people injured.
By Mark Kennedy