PEREIRA, Colombia – Colombia’s defense minister said Thursday that Bogota has discovered that the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group has planned several attacks from Venezuela and that he communicated those concerns to his counterpart in the neighboring country.
Luis Carlos Villegas said that in his phone conversation Wednesday night with Vladimir Padrino the two agreed to hold a face-to-face meeting in the border region to discuss the situation.
“The call was aimed at communicating to Venezuela our concerns in the sense that the ELN is planning (attacks) ... in the Colombian border (provinces of) Norte de Santander and Arauca” from Venezuela, Villegas told reporters in Pereira.
Recently, Venezuelan Attorney General Tarek Saab said Colombia was planning “the military bombardment, the military invasion” of his country, while Colombian armed forces commander Gen. Alberto Mejia said the ELN was recruiting Venezuelans and that the leaders of that guerrillas group were in that neighboring country.
In Wednesday night’s telephone conversation, Villegas told Padrino that during a so-called “armed strike” that the ELN declared in Colombia last week authorities were able to determine that “Colombian and Venezuelan (guerrillas) were carrying out terrorist and armed actions against the population.”
Villegas also said the number of Venezuelans participating in these actions was growing.
In that regard, he recalled that two Venezuelans were killed in recent days while installing an explosive charge near the border.
Villegas’ comments come amid bilateral tensions over a massive cross-border exodus of Venezuelans, who are fleeing to Colombia to escape a severe economic crisis in their homeland.
Villegas made the remarks while taking part Thursday in the inauguration of the VI Colombia-Ecuador Binational Cabinet in the western city of Pereira along with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Ecuadorian head of state Lenin Moreno and ministers from both countries.
The ELN declared a four-day “armed strike” (an action aimed at shutting down travel and transport) beginning last weekend to protest the Colombian government’s decision to suspend peace talks.
Santos’ administration late last month suspended those negotiations, which began in early 2017, after a surge in attacks by the rebel group.