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Colombia rebels call for new ceasefire, renewed peace talks

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AFP Quito
Colombia's last rebel group, the ELN, today called for a new ceasefire and the resumption of frozen peace talks with the government as the prospect of open conflict flared anew following a string of deadly attacks.

The ELN, or National Liberation Army, said it "hopes" the government will attend peace negotiations that had been set for tomorrow in Ecuador's capital Quito.

It offered "to agree to a new and better bilateral ceasefire," it said in a statement read in Quito by its chief negotiator, Pablo Beltran.

President Juan Manuel Santos yesterday declared the suspension of the peace talks after three bomb attacks on police stations in Colombia killed seven officers and wounded dozens.

He also ordered his security forces to act with "maximum determination" against the rebel group.

The developments threatened to re-ignite an armed conflict that had been on the path to peaceful resolution following a historic November 2016 peace deal with Colombia's biggest insurgent group, the FARC.

A similar deal with the smaller ELN -- estimated to number 1,800 fighters -- has remained out of reach, however.

A previous ceasefire with the ELN expired on January 10 without any breakthrough, leading the government to say it was suspending talks.

The ELN then returned to targeting security forces and oil installations, and Colombia's military retaliated with an offensive resulting in dozens of deaths and arrests.

The three weekend bombings targeted police stations in three locations: two in the Caribbean port city of Barranquilla and one in Santa Rosa, in the department of Bolivar.

The ELN claimed responsibility for the worst of the attacks, which killed five officers and wounded 41 in Barranquilla on Saturday as police were assembling for roll- call.

Santos' government put the blame for all three on the ELN.

The United States condemned the attacks and another, apparently unrelated one, near the border in neighbouring Ecuador that left 28 police and civilians wounded.

Today's ELN statement did not refer directly to the bombings, but said the rebels were "responding to the military offensive.

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First Published: Jan 31 2018 | 1:50 AM IST

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