BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia has captured eight National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels accused of taking part in a car bomb attack that killed 22 police cadets and derailed peace talks with the government, officials said on Thursday.
The explosion in 2019 was the worst attack in years in Colombia’s capital Bogota and resulted in President Ivan Duque dismissing the possibility of continuing nascent peace talks with the left-wing group, founded in 1964.
“Eight people who participated in the financing, planning and execution of the attack on Jan. 17, 2019 have been successfully captured,” Attorney General Francisco Barbosa said in a joint broadcast with Duque and Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo.
The arrests were carried out in cities including Bogota, Zipaquira and Manizales, as well as the settlement of La Esmeralda in Arauca province, which borders Venezuela, where equipment and vehicles were seized.
The detainees, accused of murder and terrorism, face jail sentences of between 40 and 50 years, Barbosa said.
Authorities had earlier captured five other people accused of belonging to the ELN and participating in the attack on the National Police Academy, which injured 89 people.
Since the bombing, Duque has refused to consider possible peace talks with the group, saying it must first suspend kidnappings and free all hostages. Duque has also insisted the ELN stop recruiting minors, end its attacks on infrastructure, and discontinue its alleged use of landmines.
The ELN, which has 2,000 fighters and is considered a terrorist group by the United States and European Union, has declined to meet the demands.
“We once again send a strong message to the terrorists: we are going to keep fighting them, we are going to keep breaking them up,” Duque said.
ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltran told Reuters in May the group would support a three-month global ceasefire proposed by the Untied Nations to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.
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