ELN rebels behind Bogota car bomb attack that killed 21: Colombian government

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A man takes part in a candlelight vigil to honor victims, close to the scene of a car bomb explosion, in Bogota, Colombia on January 17. (Reuters)
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A police officer holds a flower while standing guard at a candlelight vigil to honor victims, close to the scene of a car bomb explosion, in Bogota, Colombia on January 17. (Reuters)
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Members of the security forces and rescue personnel work at the site of an explosion on a police cadet training school in Bogota on January 17, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019
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ELN rebels behind Bogota car bomb attack that killed 21: Colombian government

  • The scene outside the General Santander police academy in southern Bogota was chaotic in the immediate aftermath of the explosion

BOGOTA: Colombia’s ELN rebel group was responsible for the car bomb attack against a police academy that killed at least 21 and injured dozens, Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said on Friday.

In Thursday’s attack, which the government described as an act of terrorism, the car broke through checkpoints into the grounds of the General Santander School before it detonated, shattering windows of apartments nearby.

The National Liberation Army (ELN), made up of some 2,000 fighters and considered a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union, began peace talks with the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos February 2017 but they have been put on hold by President Ivan Duque.

The country’s defense ministry had previously reported 11 dead and 65 injured. Colombia’s government declared three days of mourning Thursday after the attack.

The defense ministry said the “terrorist act” was carried out using a vehicle packed with 80 kilograms (around 175 pounds) of explosives.

“All Colombians reject terrorism and we’re united in fighting it,” President Ivan Duque tweeted in the aftermath.

Later in a statement to the nation, he said he had ordered reinforcements to Colombia’s borders and routes in and out of cities.

“I have also requested that priority be given to all the investigations ... to identify the masterminds of this terrorist attack and their accomplices,” he said.

The bomber — who authorities confirmed was killed in the attack — struck at the General Francisco de Paula Santander Officer’s School in the south of Bogota during a promotion ceremony for cadets.

No group has claimed responsibility, but public prosecutor Nestor Humberto Martinez named suspect Jose Aldemar Rojas Rodriguez as the “material author of this abominable crime.”

Martinez said Rojas Rodriguez entered the school compound at 9:30 a.m. driving a grey 1993 Nissan Patrol truck, but gave no details about the explosion.

He said the truck underwent an inspection in July in the Arauco department on the border with Venezuela — a traditional stronghold of ELN Marxist guerrillas.

Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said one of the dead was an Ecuadoran cadet, while a second suffered light injuries.

“The brutal act of terrorism in Bogota took the life of a compatriot,” Moreno said on Twitter.

“My sincerest thoughts go to the family, friends and companions of Erika Chico.”

Meanwhile, Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela said that 45 Panamanian cadets were present during the attack, with two injured.

Fanny Contreras, the Colombian armed forces’ health inspector, told local radio that the truck “entered (the school compound) suddenly, almost hitting the police, and then there was the explosion.”

Carol Oviedo said her brother Jonathan, a cadet, told her on the phone he had been injured, before the connection was cut.

“In two years since he joined the police, he’s never had to face a situation like this,” she said.

Like other families, she was lingering in the vicinity of the academy hoping to hear some news.

United States assistant secretary of state in charge of Latin America, Kimberly Breier condemned the attack and said: “Our condolences and sympathies go to the victims and family members of those killed.”

The US embassy in Bogota offered its “help in investigating this reprehensible attack.”

Rosalba Jimenez, 62, was opening her confectionary store near the school when the bomb went off.

“When we turned to look at the school the sky was grey with smoke. People were running, sirens... horrible, horrible, it seemed like the end of the world,” Jimenez said.

Authorities sealed off the area to the press and increased security service patrols in the south of the city, AFP reporters said.

Right-wing Duque, who assumed power in August, has peddled a tough line against Marxist rebels and drug traffickers in the largest cocaine producer in the world.

Peace talks with ELN guerrillas — who in the past have claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on police — stalled before Duque replaced Juan Manuel Santos as president, and have not been restarted.

Duque has made several demands, including the release of all hostages, as prerequisites to kick-starting the peace process, but the ELN has dismissed those as unacceptable.

After the 2016 peace accord signed by Santos and FARC guerrillas, turning the former rebels into a political party, the ELN is considered the last active rebel group in a country that has suffered more than half a century of conflict.

That cycle of violence has also involved paramilitaries, drug traffickers and other Marxist rebels, including FARC dissidents.

A year ago, six police died and 40 were injured in an attack on a police station in the Caribbean city of Barranquilla that was claimed by the ELN.

In February 2017, the ELN claimed responsibility for an attack on a police patrol in the Macarena neighborhood of Bogota that left one officer dead and several seriously wounded.

In June, three people — including a Frenchwoman — were killed and nine others wounded in an attack on a Bogota shopping mall that authorities blamed on a fringe left-wing group called the Revolutionary People’s Movement.


UK and Russia hold first talks in over a year

Updated 16 February 2019
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UK and Russia hold first talks in over a year

  • The meeting is the first between ministers from the two countries following the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury on March 4
  • The attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, which Britain said was done using a Soviet era nerve agent Novichok, plunged relations to their lowest ebb in decades

LONDON: Junior foreign ministers from Britain and Russia met in Germany on Saturday in the highest-level contact between the two countries since an alleged nerve agent attack in Britain last March froze diplomatic relations.
Britain’s Minister for Europe Alan Duncan held talks with Russia’s First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov on the margins of the Munich Security Conference, according to the foreign office in London.
“Alan underlined that we have deep differences, and the Russian state would need to choose a different path and act as a responsible international partner before there can be a change in our current relationship with Russia,” it said in a statement.
The meeting is the first between ministers from the two countries following the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury on March 4 which Britain has blamed on Moscow.
The attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, which Britain said was done using a Soviet era nerve agent Novichok, plunged relations to their lowest ebb in decades.
The attack killed a British woman who came into contact with the Novichok, as well as injuring several others including a policeman.
Among a raft of responses, London suspended all planned high-level bilateral contacts between the two countries, and canceled ministers and members of the royal family attending last summer’s World Cup in Russia.
“(The) minister reiterated the UK’s and Allies’ firm stance in response to the Russian state’s reckless use of chemical weapons in Salisbury,” the foreign office added in its statement.
“He made clear that Russia must address the concerns of the international community.
“This includes ending its destabilising activity in Ukraine; and the persecution of the LGBT community in Chechnya.”
The foreign office said Britain would continue to “build and strengthen our cultural ties and people to people links with Russia wherever we can.”
Ministers from around the world, including those from the US, France, Britain, and Germany, are taking part in several days of talks in Munich this weekend centered on global security issues.