February 7, 2018 / 1:52 PM / a month ago

Colombia's ELN plans blockade to protest peace talks suspension

BOGOTA, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Colombia’s ELN rebel group said on Wednesday it would hold a three-day national blockade beginning over the weekend to protest the government’s suspension of peace negotiations, and urged Colombians to avoid travel.

The government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) have been in talks since February 2017 to end a five decade war, but President Juan Manuel Santos suspended the negotiations last week after a series of rebel attacks killed seven police over a single weekend.

The blockade, unlikely to be heeded by most of the country, will begin at 6 a.m. (1100 GMT) on Saturday, ending at the same hour on Feb. 13, the ELN said in a statement. All rebel units will comply with the order, it added.

In western Colombia, especially coastal Choco province where the group are active, citizens are encouraged not to travel, the statement said, as transport on roads and waterways will be halted.

“We call on transporters and passengers to abstain from traveling to avoid inconveniences,” the statement said.

The 2,000-strong ELN and the government agreed to their first-ever ceasefire in October, but the rebels launched a new offensive when it expired in early January, killing security force members, bombing major oil pipelines and kidnapping an oil contractor.

The Cano Limon pipeline has been halted for nearly a month because of ELN bombs, including one detonated on Monday.

The government negotiating team at the peace talks had no immediate comment. Santos and defense minister Luis Carlos Villegas were at a weekly cabinet meeting and may comment later on Wednesday, their offices said. (Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Andrew Hay)

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