Cuba tipped off Colombia about looming left-wing ELN rebel attack

Colombian soldiers and police patrol during a nationwide three-day armed strike called by ELN left-wing guerrillas in Medellin, Colombia on February 15, 2020
Colombian soldiers and police patrol during a nationwide three-day armed strike called by ELN left-wing guerrillas in Medellin, Colombia on February 15, 2020 JOAQUIN SARMIENTO AFP/File
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Bogota (AFP)

Cuba has tipped Colombia off about a plan by the left-wing ELN guerrilla group to attack Bogota in the "next few days," Colombia's defense minister said Monday.

"The Colombian government received from the Cuban ambassador... Jose Luis Ponce a communication with an alleged terrorist attack that was being planned for Colombia by the ELN group," Diego Molano said in a statement.

Since May 2018, Havana has hosted a delegation from the National Liberation Army, or ELN, the last active guerrilla organization operating in Colombia after the 2016 peace agreement by the main rebel group, the FARC, which was negotiated on the island.

The ELN rebels had been angling for a similar truce with then-president Juan Manuel Santos that would completely end the civil conflict that had stretched on for more than half a century.

But Santos' successor, President Ivan Duque, broke off talks after the ELN detonated a car bomb at a police academy in Bogota that killed 22 people, in addition to the attacker, in January 2019.

Cuba said in the memo, signed by its ambassador, that it had shared the intelligence with the guerrilla delegation on the island, but that the ELN representatives "expressed total ignorance" of the plot.

The ELN delegation also "reiterated that it has no involvement in the military decisions or operations of the organization," according to the memo, released by Colombian officials.

After the breakdown of the peace process, Duque demanded that Cuba extradite the rebels in its territory, which President Miguel Diaz-Canel's government opposed.

Havana argued that there are protocols signed by Colombia and guarantor countries that provide for the ex-negotiators to be safely returned to their camps on Colombian soil.

The government of former US president Donald Trump used Cuba's refusal as an argument to include the island nation again on its list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

The ELN has some 2,300 combatants and an extensive support network in urban centers. Bogota also condemned the fact that a significant number of the rebels are in Venezuela under the protection of "the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro."