Colombia's ELN plans blockade to protest peace talks suspension

BOGOTA (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.

FILE PHOTO - A rebel from Colombia's Marxist National Liberation Army (ELN) shows his weapon in the northwestern jungles, Colombia August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Federico Rios

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 at least seven police over one 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 government rejected the move and said it would continue to battle the ELN.

“With this threat, the ELN has adopted tactics which we thought were exclusive to organized crime,” Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas told journalists.

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 signed a peace deal with larger guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in late 2016. The group is now a political party.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Carlos Vargas; Editing by Andrew Hay and Rosalba O’Brien