Colombia seizes six metric tons of cocaine from ELN rebels

BOGOTA, June 29 (Reuters) - Colombia's military has seized six metric tons of cocaine from guerrillas of the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) in a jungle region in the southeast of the country, Defense Minister Diego Molano said on Tuesday.

The cocaine was seized in an operation in the rural municipality of Samaniego in Colombia's Narino province, close to the Pacific coast.

"This strike is to the detriment of the finances of this group," Molano said in a statement to journalists, adding that the drugs were seized from a complex that supplies the ELN with monthly profits worth $8 million.

Despite decades fighting drug trafficking, Colombia remains one of the world's top producers of cocaine and faces constant pressure from the United States to reduce crops and production of the drug which has long financed Colombia's internal armed conflict.

The area occupied by coca crops - the chief ingredient in cocaine - in Colombia expanded to 245,000 hectares (605,408 acres) at the end of 2020, and cocaine production capacity rose to 1,010 metric tons a year, the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) said last week.

Colombia's security forces destroyed some 130,000 hectares of coca in 2020, and confiscated around 505 metric tons of cocaine.

The ELN is estimated to have some 2,500 combatants and has fought the government since its 1964 founding by extremist Roman Catholic priests.

The rebel group, which is accused of financing itself with kidnapping, extortion, drug trafficking and illegal mining, has failed to reach a peace deal to end its part in Colombia's conflict - which has left more than 260,000 dead and millions displaced - due to its diffuse chain of command.

The ELN's top leaders deny the group is involved in drug trafficking, which they say is a government strategy to discredit them.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Jonathan Oatis

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