February 28, 2018 / 7:47 PM / 8 months ago

Colombia's president questions whether to end ELN peace talks over attacks

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said on Wednesday he is torn over whether to break peace talks with the Marxist ELN rebels following a series of attacks that have killed scores of police and military personnel.

FILE PHOTO - Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos speaks during a news conference in Bogota, Colombia February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

Another five soldiers were killed and more than 10 wounded early on Tuesday in a bomb attack by the National Liberation Army (ELN) near the border with Venezuela. The latest attack comes after eight police officers were killed in January.

“I’m in that dilemma. What should I do with the ELN? Keep insisting or do as the public wants, because today the public is in favour of breaking the dialogues,” Santos said during an event in the coastal city of Cartagena.

“How many lives does will it cost if I break the dialogues at this moment and how many lives are we going to save if we keep insisting?” he said.

Santos suspended peace talks with the ELN in January, after the end of the two sides’ first-ever bilateral ceasefire, when the rebels immediately resumed attacks on security forces and oil pipelines.

Santos criticized the group for its inconsistency after it called a four-day unilateral ceasefire for legislative elections next month and then the very next day launched an attack that killed the soldiers.

“Where’s the coherence? I ask, where’s the coherence?” he said.

The 2,000-strong group was founded by radical Roman Catholic priests in 1964. More than 220,000 people have been killed during Colombia’s conflict.

The United States and European Union consider the ELN a terrorist group. The ELN has participated in peace talks in the past but each time, the discussions have failed.

Reporting by Helen Murphy; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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