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Colombia's ELN rebels kidnap oil engineer

Gunmen claiming to belong to Colombia's ELN rebel group have kidnapped an oil engineer in the country's north. The government this week suspended peace talks with the guerrillas following a string of recent attacks.

Suspected rebels from Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN) abducted the state oil company worker on Saturday from an office in Saravena, near the border with Venezuela, local media reported.

The hostage, identified as 41-year-old Andres Riano Ravelo, was taken by "two masked men with pistols who identified themselves as members of the ELN," a police statement said.

State oil company Ecopetrol condemned the kidnapping and called for the worker's immediate release on Twitter.

The kidnapping took place as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived in Colombia to support peace efforts amid concerns about rebel attacks.

Faltering peace

The government of President Juan Manuel Santos began peace talks with ELN representatives in February last year. But negotiations were suspended Wednesday in response to what Santos called guerrilla attacks.

The renewed violence came as a 101-day bilateral truce expired on January 9 without an agreement to renew it. On Friday, the Ministry of Defense reported there had been at least 14 ELN attacks since the cease-fire ended.

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WorldLink: Colombia fails to find peace

The cease-fire was the first ever entered into by the ELN since it was formed over 50 years ago. As part of the deal, agreed in September, the Cuban-inspired rebels had pledged to stop all hostage-taking, the recruitment of minors, the use of landmines and attacks on infrastructure. The government, in turn, promised to improve conditions for jailed rebels and boost protections for community leaders.

Efforts to end decades of violence in the South American nation gained momentum after the much larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) reached a historic peace deal with the government in 2016. But despite some progress in talks with the ELN, the group has continued to take hostages for ransom and bomb oil pipelines.

The FARC and ELN formed in 1964 to fight for land rights and safeguard rural communities. Conflict involving the two rebel movements, the Colombian army and right-wing paramilitary groups have left more than 260,000 dead, displaced 6 million people and led to the disappearance of tens of thousands.

nm/sms (AFP, EFE, dpa)

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