BOGOTA – Military personnel and National Police officers killed 10 National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas during a counterinsurgency operation in northeastern Colombia, Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said on Monday.
“The search operations are continuing,” Villegas said, adding that authorities were working to identify the dead rebels and determine whether a top ELN commander was among those killed in the fighting in Norte de Santander, a province on the border with Venezuela.
The operation is being conducted around Potrero Grande, a hamlet in a rural area outside the city of El Carmen, Villegas said.
The dead rebels belonged to the ELN’s northeastern front, the defense minister said.
The operation targeted the ELN’s main camps in the region, where drug traffickers also operate.
The government and the ELN began peace negotiations in Ecuador on Feb. 7 in an effort to hammer out a deal similar to the one reached by President Juan Manuel Santos’s administration with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The ELN unit targeted in the operation staged attacks on the energy industry and the Caño Limon-Coveñas pipeline, Colombia’s main oil pipeline.
The rebel unit was also behind attacks on the security forces in Catatumbo, a region where the ELN has a large presence.
The ELN, Colombia’s second-largest leftist guerrilla group, was founded in 1964.