Analysis and Security Weekly,
Issue 8: “Reborn” ELN: limited security risks; window to negotiate

After a long period of virtual inactivity the ELN has, since 2012, managed to present itself as a resurgent armed group, reactivating their violent actions in targeted regions, while seeking to appear as a political actor to start a negotiation process with the State.

The ELN `escalation´
From the beginning of the Santos Administration the ELN reactivated their fronts and increased its offensive actions (-and clashes) against the security forces. This rise in activity was exacerbated in 2013, when their activities doubled compared to the previous year, and this situation has been maintained until today

Events with ELN participation (per year)

TablaAccionesConventions: AU (unilateral action), CT (combat) and ET (total events).
Source: Database of Armed Conflict in Colombia – CERAC


Much of ELN activity is focused on offensive actions without a combat, typically for a guerilla group. Although the combats against security forces tripled between 2012 and 2013, these combats are still at low levels compared with attacks involving the use of explosives against infrastructure, which constitute the vast majority of their violent actions.

Graphic. Events with ELN participation (2010-2015)


The ELN is careful not to expose themselves to the danger of an open confrontation with the State, and they restrict their actions to remote –and inaccessible areas. They focus on attacking the mining and -energy infrastructure (as a precondition for the extortion of companies in this sector), and on attacking the security forces through guerrilla actions like harassment and intimidation. Similarly, the ELN maintains kidnapping for a twofold purpose: kidnapping for economic ends (mainly workers in the mining and energy industry), which occasionally is used for political ends, pursuing a nationalist agenda in matter. In the last four years around 30 kidnapping each year are, according to the authorities, attributed to the ELN.

Although their violent actions are regionally and sectorally concentrated, the ELN is far from being a minor guerrilla, without any implications for the national security. Although the ELN has failed to mount a wide strategic offensive, it is still a serious threat in regions where they historically have had a strong presence: (1) The Llanos Orientales (Casanare and Auraca), towards the border with Venezuela, where a vast part of their activities are concentrated (especially the combats). (2) The Magdalena Medio corridor (northeast of Antioquia and the south of Bolívar and Santander), towards the border with Venezuela (Norte de Santander); (3) Risaralda and Chocó, which creates a corridor to the strategically important Pacific, given the possibility to control the production of coca and cocaine; and (4) the Andean Cauca region (except the North, where the FARC has presence) and the Nariño department, towards the border with Ecuador.

Moreover, in contrast to the FARC, this group has shown the (occasional) ability to perform terrorist actions in 10 capitals of the country, including 3 major cities such as Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena. They also are present in Pereira, Ibague, Cucuta, Villavicencio, Pasto, Pretoria and Arauca.

Therefore, it has a priority to advance in a negotiation process between ELN and State to end this conflict. Leaving this conflict unresolved, would involve a serious risk to the regional peace building, caused by a possible reactivation of political violence in regions with presence of the group. First, it could enable the ELN to fill up the spaces left by the FARC in highly conflictive zones as Auraca, Catumbo or Bota Caucana. Second, it could intensify the dispute over the illegal and informal mining of gold and precious woods between the ELN and GPDP (for example, the Clan Úsuga) in regions as the Pacific or Nariño, as well for the control of the drugs-trafficking routes. Finally, it could generate a revival or, in the worst case, a strong increase of terrorist actions by this group in cities, given the fact of the extreme radicalism and military incapacity that characterize their urban cells. All these actions would affect communities, civil authorities and business activities, which are developing in these areas.

Although this group pointed out its interest to start negotiations with the state, as evidenced by their participation in the unilateral ceasefire (together with the FARC) during the last presidential election period, there still persist two `blocks` to start these negotiations: first of all, the insistence of this group to carry out kidnappings (recently the four geologists in Norte de Santander (02/19/2015), and secondly, the (occasional) actions against civilians, including threats against social leaders or civil authorities and the use of explosives in cities (see the Bogotá case). Although not widespread, these actions are having a negative impact on the acceptance of a peace process by the public, and strengthen the position of the government to postpone the start the process, and to demand more favorable `peace` deeds- and gestures of this group.

Is the ELN being reactivated in Bogotá?

This week two new explosions were registered in Bogotá, and these can be added to the three explosions earlier this year. These new attacks were registered in the localities of Engativa and Teusaquillo. Authorities have not confirmed who was behind the explosions. Solely for the last explosion on March 6, General Palomino, director of the National Police stated: “a hypothesis that cannot be ruled out, is the possible involvement of the ELN“. Given this, there are according to the CERAC three scenarios that could explain these explosions:

  1. The explosions could cause a reputation of violence and a climate of insecurity, prior to an ongoing extortion campaign by organized criminal groups. In this context exists the possibility of “contagion”: once a group detonate one or two bombs, another not-related criminal group will seize the moment to carry out similar attacks to magnify the effect of fear, and charge extortion based on this criminal ´reputation`. This hypothesis is improbable, since three of the attacks were directed against targets that usually are not subject of paying extortion: a bank, a mobile police center, and a political party.
  2. That the explosions are related to disputes between criminal gangs for the control of areas for the micro-trafficking of drugs. Unlikely in our view, since such disputes are usually resolved by selective violence directed at members of each group and not by terrorist-like attacks.
  3. That these events may be associated with the reactivation of `sleeping cells` of the ELN that existed since long ago in Bogota, and in other cities. This last hypothesis gains strength from the fact of the last explosion registered; previous explosions have similar characteristics to the latter. This hypothesis is also consistent with the strategy of strengthening the guerrilla offensive.

Map 1. of Unilateral Actions and Combats with ELN participation (2010-2015)
Semanario 8 mapa AU y CL ELN 2010-2015_Sintitle


Politics, conflict and peace

This week a delegation of six active generals of the Armed Forces traveled to Havana to join the negotiating table. The objective of this delegation is, according to a presidential mandate, to give recommendations and advice to the negotiators with respect to the disarmament discussion, and to agree a bilateral ceasefire. Given the fact that the government clarified that these generals will not have any decision capacity in the negotiations, it is of importance to incorporate them in the discussions, so that the Armed Forces are taking in account as an active part in the design and implementation of the post-conflict future. Early reports show direct dialogues between the generals and their counterparts of the FARC.

Despite the fact that a bilateral ceasefire was not accepted by the government, it is clear that they are taking action to de-escalate the violence in the conflict. This is not only reflected in the substantial decrease of battles and actions of the Armed Forces, but also in the temporary suspension of the recruitment of soldiers for the army.

During his visit to Spain, President Santos announced that the Government will look for mechanisms to assure the non-extradition of FARC commanders. This announcement confirms one of the demanded guarantees by the FARC to sign the final agreement.

The United States´ envoy to the peace process, Bernard Aronson, got together for the first time with the negotiating delegation in Havana. This was the first meeting ever between the FARC and a representative of the US government. It is worth remembering that the FARC remains a group “designated as terrorist” by the US government. One of the principal themes that the guerilla will try to address with the US government is the situation of FARC-members who find themselves imprisoned in the United States, principally the case of `alias Simon Trinidad´ convicted of conspiracy to kidnap US citizens for terrorist purposes.

The most recent Human Rights Watch report denounces the continuing critical security situation in Buenaventura. The report details that, despite actions taken by the government to protect the population, they remain a victim of armed groups and criminal gangs. Acts as enforced disappearances, murder and dismemberment of bodies, forced displacement and sexual violence continue to affect the population of the harbor town. The Government notes that there haven’t been such cases in recent months.

Unilateral ceasefire by FARC

In 75 days of the conditional and unilateral ceasefire declared by the FARC, CERAC has registered three offensive actions that have been attributed to the guerrilla group (two harassments against the security forces, and one threat against civilians), located in the departments of Cauca , Nariño and Putumayo, without any reported deaths or injuries.During the same period CERAC identified 27 events with alleged involvement of the FARC, that would violate the unilateral ceasefire; these require further verification by the Authorities: 12 unilateral actions (three of them directed against the security forces and 9 against the civilian population) and 16 combats with the security forces of which it is unknown whether the initiative was with the FARC or the security forces. In these clashes 3 civilians, 3 members of the Army and 10 guerillas were killed; two members of the army, six policemen, 1 member of the Air Force and 4 guerillas were wounded. The areas where these events occurred are, in most of the cases, areas where there is presence of both FARC and ELN guerrillas.

Weekly security assesment

One violent action was performed by the ELN (1 case of kidnapping and the murder of civilians), in the department of Antioquia. During this action three people were killed by the guerrillas and one was kidnapped. Furthermore, this guerrilla group released the mayor of Alto Baudo, Freddy Palacio, who was kidnapped for two and a half months by this group.

Six violent actions of a political nature (1 murder, 1 Physical aggression and 4 threats) were registered in the departments of Cesar, Norte de Santander, Sucre, Valle del Cauca and Bogotá. One journalist was killed, a community leader was wounded; and 6 politics and one leader of a social organization were threatened.

The Pos Demobilization Paramilitary Groups (GPDP) threatened one community leader. This incident occurred in the department op Chocó.

In terms of violent acts committed by unidentified groups, there were seven actions registered (1 slaughter, 1 kidnapping, 1 harassment, 1 intentional explosion, 1 threat and 2 attacks on pipelines), located in the departments of Antioquia, Cesar, Huila, La Guajira, Risaralda and Bogota. During these events, 4 civilians were killed, 5 civilians and 2 policemen were wounded, 1 civilian was kidnapped and a family of 6 was displaced.

They registered the theft of 14 new motorcycles in the department of Arauca by an unidentified guerrilla group.

They registered six combats between the security forces and armed groups (4 against the FARC, 1 against the ELN, and 1 between ELN and a GPDP), located in the departments of Antioquia, Cauca, Chocó Huila and Tolima. As a result of these combats 1 soldier and 2 guerillas died (1 of the ELN and 1 of the FARC). Furthermore, one member of the Air Force was wounded. During a combat between a GPDP and the ELN in Bajo Baudo in the Chocó department, 655 civilians were displaced.


Map 2. Relevant actions of the week

Semanario 8 mapa hechos relevantes de la semana_Sintitle



Traducido por Peter De Waal Malefijt