A senior commander of the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group has died from wounds received in a military bombing, the government said.
Angel Padilla Romero, known by the nickname Fabian, led the ELN Western Front died at a hospital in Cali, the country’s third largest city, Defense Minister Diego Molano told reporters on Tuesday.
Romero was taken to hospital after being found wounded in the jungles of Choco province, one of the strongholds of the rebel group, 10 days after the bombing.
“We have dealt the strongest blow against the ELN during the government of President Ivan Duque,” Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano told a news conference, describing the rebel commander as “the most important ELN leader still in Colombia.”
“We caught him alive, gave him first aid and he was taken to a hospital in Cali where he died while receiving medical care,” Molano said, adding that seven other rebels were also killed in the bombing.
Colombian President Ivan Duque said on Twitter that the “narco-terrorist” and the “killer” had been “neutralized”.
“He was a criminal of the greatest danger,” added Molano, who called Fabian “the perpetrator of many murders” and described him as a “drug trafficker” following the displacement of thousands of people.
The ELN is the last active rebel organization operating in Colombia following a 2016 peace deal that officially disarmed the country’s main rebel group, the Colombian Armed Revolutionary Forces (FARC).
Some FARC dissidents remain active in the South American nation, while the ELN has about 2,300 active fighters and an extensive support network in urban centers.
Colombia, which has been rocked by massive anti-government protests this year, also experienced an increase in violence in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a report in March that 389 people – mostly civilians – were killed by explosive devices last year. This is the highest ratio since 2016, when the peace agreement between the government and the FARC was signed.
The country faces at least five ongoing conflicts with armed groups, the ICRC said, adding that civilians were paying the price of the escalating violence.
The United Nations also said earlier this year that violence was “intensifying” in Colombia, especially in remote parts of the country, and that killings of human rights activists were on the rise.
Romero’s death is the most significant blow to the ELN since the other “Uriel” commander was killed in a military operation in October last year.
Duque in 2019 ended negotiations with the group after rebels claimed a car bomb attack that killed 22 police officers, resuming military operations against the ELN.
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