On Wednesday, the Colombian Army pointed the finger at the National Liberation Army (ELN) for the kidnapping of a sergeant and her two children in Arauca. “It is presumed that the family was kidnapped by members of the Domingo Laín Sáenz Front of the organized armed group ELN,” reads a statement. According to the Eighth Division, the family was kidnapped on Monday, when they were traveling through Fortul (Arauca) toward the municipality of Arauca in the department of the same name.
“We hold the ELN’s Eastern War Front responsible for the life and physical integrity of our non-commissioned officer and the minors,” reads the press release. In addition, the Army reports that the kidnapped sergeant is Ghislaine Karina Ramirez and that she is a relative of an officer in the Eighth Division. Her two children are six and eight years old; one of them has autism. The armed forces remain cautious about the handling of information. They refer to the few details known about the case as part of an “investigation,” speak in the conditional tense and emphasize that they “preliminarily presume” that they are dealing with a kidnapping.
On Wednesday, the sergeant’s father told Caracol Radio that he had been in contact with his daughter until Monday night. “She wrote me that she was going through the Castilla area, arriving in Yopal, something like that. She told me: ‘It’s bad here. It’s dangerous. The road is isolated. You only see motorcycles. After that, I never heard from her again,” he said. He also said that the sergeant worked in Melgar. “She had not received any threats, as far as I know,” he added.
The kidnapping occurred at a time of uncertainty about how the bilateral ceasefire between the Gustavo Petro administration and the guerrillas will be implemented. On Monday, the ELN announced an armed strike in San Juan (Chocó), a region it disputes with the Gulf Clan. “We’re seeing the start of the agreed-upon ceasefire with the National Government seriously compromised,” a man who identified himself as a member of the Omar Gomez Western War Front said in a recording. The guerrillas then blamed Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez and the military for the Gulf Clan’s actions against the civilian population.
The bilateral ceasefire was signed in Havana in early June. On Tuesday, the armed group gave the order to cease all offensive operations as of June 6, as indicated in the agreement with the government. But the ceasefire will only go into full effect for 180 days as of August 3. There are also conflicting interpretations of the ceasefire’s scope. Hours after the agreement was signed, ELN chief negotiator, Pablo Beltrán, said that civilian kidnappings and extortion are part of the guerrilla group’s funding and that stopping such activities was not included in the dialogues that have taken place so far.
Founded in 1964, the ELN is Colombia’s last active guerrilla group. It has some 2,350 fighters—the number of which doubled during the Iván Duque administration—and it maintains a presence in the departments of Norte de Santander, Arauca, Nariño and Chocó. Negotiating with the group presents several challenges, including fragmented leadership and the emergence of new regional commanders and mid-level cadres who have distanced themselves from past leaders.
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