US offers $5m-reward for Colombian ELN rebel leader

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The ELN rebels finance themselves mainly through drug trafficking
The ELN rebels finance themselves mainly through drug trafficking

The United States is offering a reward of up to $5 million (£3.9m) for information leading to the arrest of a leader of the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group in Colombia.

Writing on Twitter, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the ELN rebel, Wilver Villegas Palomino, as an “indicted narcoterrorist”.

Mr Pompeo’s tweet comes two days after he visited Colombia.

The ELN is a Marxist rebel group which has been active for more than 50 years.

The US accuses Wilver Villegas Palomino, 38, of involvement in “an ongoing 20-year conspiracy to distribute cocaine from Colombia to the United States” to finance the ELN.

In his tweet, Mr Pompeo said that the US was “committed to helping the Colombian government disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations operating in the region”.

His tweet echoed the support Mr Pompeo had expressed for Colombia’s President Iván Duque after their meeting on Saturday.

Key facts: ELN

  • The 2,000-strong guerrilla group was founded in 1964 to fight against Colombia’s unequal distribution of land and riches, inspired by the Cuban revolution of 1959

  • Over the decades, the group has attacked large landholders and multinational companies, and repeatedly blown up oil pipelines

  • To finance itself it has resorted to extortion, kidnappings and drug trafficking

  • It has been strongest in rural areas

  • It is considered a terrorist group by Colombia, the United States and the European Union

In 2016, President Duque’s predecessor in office Juan Manuel Santos signed a peace deal with another of Colombia’s left-wing rebel groups, the Farc, but negotiations with the ELN stalled and when Mr Duque came to office he put them on hold.

Hopes of renewing the negotiations were dashed in January 2019 when an ELN rebel drove a van laden with explosives into the grounds of a police academy in the capital Bogotá, killing 21 police cadets.

The government also suspects the ELN of being behind a number of recent mass killings in south-western Nariño province, including that of eight young partygoers in August, but the ELN has denied any involvement.



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