Multiple attacks were carried out in the early hours of the morning that injured two members of the Colombian military, ruptured one of the nation’s largest oil pipelines, and threatened peace talks between the government and the country’s largest insurgent group, according to public officials and state-controlled oil company Ecopetrol.
Two military members were injured in an apparent grenade attack on the Caño Limón-Coveñas pipeline that sent both to the hospital, where they were expected to recover fully. Some oil spilled, according to Ecopetrol, but the product was “contained in the crater left by the explosion,” said the Bogotá-based company in a statement.
The act is suspected to have been launched by the “José Daniel Suárez” faction of the National Liberation Army (ELN), which is now the country’s largest armed guerrilla group and has been formally negotiating a peace deal with the government since early last year in Quito.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos responded by formally recalling the country’s peace negotiator to Bogotá from Ecuador. The negotiator, Gustavo Bell, was set to re-engage in discussions to extend a three-month ceasefire that had expired just hours before the attacks.
“We were always willing to extend the ceasefire with ELN,” said Santos on Twitter, adding that “they inexplicably refused and today reinitiated terrorist attacks.” The president said that he told Gustavo Bell, the government’s chief negotiator, to return to Colombia and “evaluate the future of the peace process.”
Santos said on Twitter that he also instructed the military to “act with force and respond to this ELN aggression.”
“My commitment to peace will be unwavering,” added Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016, “but this comes through concrete action, not only words.”
Negotiations between the two sides officially began in February 2017, not long after the government finalized a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and had yielded some progress in the form of a 102-day bilateral ceasefire that was signed in the lead up to a national visit by Pope Francis and formally began on October 1.
According to Ecopetrol, another attack, near the Boyacá town of Cubará, hit a different section of the Caño Limón-Coveñas pipeline this morning, leading the oil company to initiate its official contingency plan to deal with the disruption and potential environmental fallout. “Pumping was immediately suspended” at eight wells, stated the company, and local communities were warned that preventive measures should be taken due to the potential risk of a an oil spill.
Yet another attack was suspected by Ecopetrol in the municipality of Aguazul in Casanare after the company detected a loss of pressure in the pipeline. It also suspended pumping and alerted the nearby communities. Ecopetrol stated this morning that it was then awaiting assistance from public security personnel to assess the situation before initiating its plan to “carry out the required repair and environmental recovery activities.”
Pipeline attacks on Caño Limón-Coveñas had remained an ongoing concern in the first half of 2017, typically attributed to ELN, but there have been fewer reported since the ceasefire began last September.
Photo: According to Ecopetrol, the attack in Boyacá left a large crater. (Credit: Ecopetrol)