Colombian President Ivan Duque

A joint military operation has “neutralized” a leader of the guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombian President Ivan Duque said on Sunday.

Duque said that the leader, known as Uriel, was “neutralized” in Novita, some 300 kilometres south-west of Medellin.

The Colombian president said that Uriel was responsible for the kidnappings and killings of “civil society leaders,” as well as being accused of recruiting young people and training urban ELN cells.

“This is a blow of great importance because we have caught one of the most visible figures of this terror organization,” Duque said in a televised statement.

The Colombian government’s 2016 peace deal with the guerrilla movement FARC left the ELN as Colombia’s last officially existing such group, with an estimated 2,600 fighters.

Duque suspended talks with the ELN after it accepted responsibility for a bombing that killed 22 students at a Bogota police academy in January 2019.

The president said on Sunday that Uriel was one of those responsible for that attack. About 1,000 community leaders, human rights and environmental activists have been killed in Colombia since the government signed the 2016 peace deal, according to the watchdog Indepaz.

Indepaz has also reported over 68 massacres – defined as killings of at least three people – in Colombia so far this year, with Cauca the most affected region in the south.

The government attributes the violence to armed groups including FARC dissidents, the ELN, paramilitary and criminal gangs.

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