8 Injured at start of Colombian rebels’ ‘armed strike’
Bogota, Feb 23 (EFE).- A so-called “armed strike” by Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group shut down transportation in rebel-held territory on Wednesday, while at least eight people were wounded – three of them seriously – when a bomb exploded on a road.
President Ivan Duque slammed the guerrilla group’s actions as a “cowardly attempt to intimidate the population.”
The most serious attack occurred in the northeastern department of Santander, where six workers and two other people were wounded when an abandoned box blew up on the road linking the towns of San Gil and Pinchote, the director of the National Roads Institute (Invias), Juan Esteban Gil, said.
The explosion occurred when the road-maintenance workers were trying to remove the object, he added.
The official said three of those workers had to be transferred to a hospital in the departmental capital of Bucaramanga due to the severity of their injuries.
The ELN said early this week they would carry out an armed strike between Wednesday and early Saturday.
The protest against the conservative government’s socioeconomic policies initially affected the departments of Santander, Arauca, Norte de Santander and Cesar in the north and northeast and Cauca in the southwest, all regions with a heavy guerrilla presence.
ELN armed strikes are aimed at halting road passenger and cargo transport, while those failing to heed the group’s warnings risk being targets of attacks.
On Wednesday, the ELN left packet bombs on roads in Norte de Santander and Cesar. Also in Cesar, a bomb blast destroyed a bridge on a road that links the country’s interior with the Atlantic coast, an action that forced motorists to take long detours.
Elsewhere, a truck being driven on the Pan American Highway in Cauca was set on fire.
As a precautionary measure, bus companies in Norte de Santander and Arauca, as well as river transportation companies that navigate the middle section of the Magdalena River, Colombia’s longest, suspended their activities.
Duque blasted the ELN’s armed strike.
“As a nation, we have to tell the ELN: ‘No more,'” said the president, who characterized the guerrilla group’s attacks as attempts to sabotage the country’s development and democracy.
Duque, whose administration is not engaged in peace negotiations with the guerrillas, accused that rebel army of trying to interfere in the March 13 legislative elections.
Defense Minister Diego Molano said during a visit Wednesday to the Magdalena River port city of Barrancabermeja, where river transport was halted, that the ELN perpetrated 10 terrorist actions nationwide.
He said the security deployment had been effective, adding that mobility has been restored in eight of the places were the guerrilla actions occurred. EFE