Colombia's ELN rebels kill five soldiers in bomb attack

BOGOTA (Reuters) - At least five Colombian soldiers were killed and more than 10 wounded early on Tuesday in a bomb attack by the Marxist ELN rebels near the border with Venezuela, the army said.

The attack came one day after the National Liberation Army (ELN) said it would hold a unilateral ceasefire during legislative elections next month. The government had said the gesture was the kind of action needed to restart stalled peace talks between the two sides.

During the attack, the guerrillas bombed military vehicles on the road between the towns of Tibu and Salazar de las Palmas in Norte de Santander province.

“There was a terrorist action with the detonation of an explosive device installed by members of the Juan Fernando Porras Martinez unit of the ELN,” the army said in a statement.

The government suspended peace talks with the ELN in January, after the end of the two sides’ first-ever bilateral ceasefire, when the rebels resumed attacks on security forces and oil pipelines. Eight police officers were killed and more than 40 people wounded in a single weekend last month.

President Juan Manuel Santos said on Twitter the armed forces would pursue those responsible.

“I reject absolutely the cowardly attack against our heroes in Norte de Santander. All of my solidarity with the families and a quick recovery to the wounded. We are going after those responsible,” he said.

The 2,000-strong group was founded by radical Roman Catholic priests in 1964. More than 220,000 people have been killed during Colombia’s conflict.

The United States and European Union consider the ELN a terrorist group.

The ELN has participated in peace talks in the past but each time, the discussions have failed.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Helen Murphy and Bernadette Baum