Just as hopes had risen for a peace dialogue with Colombia's second guerilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN) carried out an attack with improvised mortars (tatucos) on the barracks of the army's 18th Brigade in the city of Arauca on the Eastern Plains. There were no casualties in the Feb. 8 attack, but the compound was left without electricity. President Manuel Santos convened an emergency meeting of his National Security Council, and pledged to respond harshly. Since then, the ELN has carried out numerous atacks in the region—including a blast on the Caño-Limón pipeline that caused a leak of crude oil.
The escalation comes just two days after the ELN on its Twitter account had called on the government to agree to a "bilateral ceasefire" to create a "favorable climate" for peace talks. Santos replied that the ELN must release two captives they are holding—a solider and a civilian government worker— before there can be any steps toward negotiation. He warned the ELN that "the peace train is leaving without them." (Colombia Reports, RCN Radio, Feb. 9; Colombia Reports, El Espectador, El Espectador, AFP, Feb 8; El Tiempo, Feb. 6)
The Colombian press speculates on a struggle within the ELN between its overall leader Nicolás Rodríguez AKA "Gabino" and Aníbal Giraldo Quinchía AKA "Pablito"—a notorious hardliner who last year ascended to the organization's Central Command. "Pablito" is commander of the ELN's Eastern Front, which carried out the Arauca attack. (La Opinión, Feb. 8; El Tiempo, Feb. 6; Colombia Reports, Oct. 14)