Colombia: new attacks threaten talks with ELN

Colombian authorities are blaming ELN guerillas in a wave of armed attacks on security forces in Arauca department—including the Dec. 18 ambush of an army patrol that left two soliders dead at Saravena. The ELN is also suspected in a spate of other recent attacks around the country—including a Dec. 29 blast at a power station at Torca, north of Bogotá, that left one National Police officer dead. (El Tiempo, Radio Caracol, Radio Caracol, Dec. 29; El TiempoRadio Caracol, Dec. 27; AFP, Dec. 19) The attacks come days after Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas warned that the window for initiating peace talks with the ELN "will not be open forever." (El Espectador, Dec. 23) In a year-end communique, the ELN blamed the government for the "difficult and anti-peace climate," especially in its refusal to accept a bilateral ceasefire. But it said the ELN remains committed to opening peace talks, and will meet again with a government delegation Jan. 10 in Quito. (El Tiempo, Dec. 26)

Meanwhile, Cali Archbishop Darío de Jesús Monsalve, appointed by President Juan Manuel Santos to broker the talks with the ELN, received a death threat. A pamphlet was sent to the home of an auxiliary bishop but addressed to Monsalve Dec. 17, with images of a noose and skull, and the words: "Death to the FARC, Santos and communist clerics." Monsalve denounced the threat, and said it would not deter his peace-making endeavors. (El Espectador, Dec. 19; El Tiempo, Dec. 18; El Tiempo, Dec. 17)