Colombian rebels torch convoy repairing Ecopetrol pipeline

BOGOTA, April 28 Mon Apr 28, 2014 5:54pm EDT

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BOGOTA, April 28 (Reuters) - A Colombian rebel group stopped and set fire to 12 vehicles transporting contractors and equipment to repair a pipeline on behalf of state-owned oil company Ecopetrol, police officials said on Monday.

No one was killed or injured in Sunday's attack by the National Liberation Army, or ELN, in a rural area in Norte de Santander province, near the border with Venezuela. The area is a hotbed for rebel activity.

The convoy was intercepted and torched as it headed to carry out repairs on the Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline that has been halted for the last month after several bomb attacks by the ELN and the FARC, another rebel group.

Flow along the 780-km pipeline, with capacity to transport 210,000 barrels of crude from oil fields in northern Arauca province, has also been halted by a local indigenous community, which has refused to allow workers onto its land to do repairs.

The series of attacks and repair delays have obliged U.S.-based Occidental to stop work in the Cano Limon and Caricare fields, which usually produce 67,000 barrels per day, and prompted a declaration of force majeure by Ecopetrol.

Each day that production is stalled results in a loss of 7 percent of the Andean nation's total production, which is around one million barrels per day, Ecopetrol said.

The ELN is the smaller of two rebel groups operating in Colombia, with fewer than 2,000 fighters. The larger rebel group, the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, is in the midst of peace talks with the government.

There were 259 attacks on pipelines in 2013, the highest number in a decade and a 72 percent increase from the previous year. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta, Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Ken Wills)

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