Top ELN rebel commander dies of bombing injuries, Colombia gov't says

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BOGOTA, Sept 28 (Reuters) - A top leader of Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels died on Tuesday of injuries sustained in a military bombing in the country's northwest, Defense Minister Diego Molano said.

Angel Padilla Romero, known by his alias Fabian, headed the group's Western Front and died in a hospital in the city of Cali, where he was taken after being found injured in the jungles of Choco province, ten days after the bombing.

"We have made the hardest hit against the ELN in the course of the government of President Ivan Duque. We captured alias Fabian, the most important leader of the ELN still in Colombia," said Molano during a press conference.

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"We captured him alive, we gave first aid and he was moved to a hospital in Cali where he died while receiving medical attention," said Molano, who said seven other rebels were also killed in the bombing.

Padilla commanded 450 fighters divided into six units, security sources said.

Antonio Garcia - who Molano said is hiding out in Venezuela - is the rebel group's official leader.

Other top commanders including Pablo Beltran are currently in Cuba, where they were holding peace talks with the Colombian government before discussions were called off in 2019.

Colombia has repeatedly urged Cuba to extradite the former negotiators on charges related to a bombing at a police academy which scuppered the talks.

The ELN, founded by radical Catholic priests in 1964, is widely considered to be less centrally controlled than former rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which inked a peace deal in 2016. The ELN is estimated to have some 2,450 fighters.

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Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Marguerita Choy

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