September 5, 2018 / 2:24 PM / 2 years ago

ELN rebels bomb Colombia's Cano Limon oil pipeline: sources

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Marxist ELN rebels destroyed a section of Colombia’s Cano Limon-Covenas oil pipeline in a bomb attack, sources in the military and at state-run oil company Ecopetrol said on Wednesday, as the government weighs restarting peace talks with the insurgents.

The attack late Tuesday occurred in Norte de Santander province near the Venezuelan border. Pumping on the pipeline had already been halted for maintenance work, an Ecopetrol source said.

The attack caused crude contamination in a creek and the Catatumbo River, as well as damage to a nearby road and several homes, Ecopetrol said in a statement. Photos released by the company showed a front porch slicked with oil, as well as a stream completely covered with crude.

Ecopetrol did not name the group responsible for the attack, but military sources blamed the National Liberation Army (ELN), which regularly bombs oil infrastructure.

The bombing of the 485-mile (780-km) pipeline, which can transport up to 210,000 barrels per day, had no immediate effect on exports or on production at the Cano Limon field, operated by Occidental Petroleum, the Ecopetrol source said.

The pipeline was stopped for six months earlier this year because of repeated attacks and crude theft, before restarting on July 10. It has been attacked 63 times in 2018.

The ELN, considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, has about 1,500 combatants and opposes multinational companies, claiming they seize natural resources without benefiting Colombians.

The ELN and the administration of former President Juan Manuel Santos began peace talks in February 2017, but new right-wing President Ivan Duque has said he is evaluating whether to continue the negotiations. His decision is expected this week.

Duque has said the ELN must free 19 hostages before any dialogue can resume.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Susan Thomas and Tom Brown

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