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Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN)
National Liberation Army

The National Liberation Army, or ELN, said 12 March 2018 that it was ready to resume peace talks with the Colombian government, which have been suspended since Jan. 9, prompting Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to confirm the news and officially announce restarting the negotiations with the leftist rebels. "Since the bilateral ceasefire ended, there have been too many deaths on both sides, too many wounded, too many victims - this is what we must stop," Santos said in a televised address. "And that can only be achieved by talking," he said, adding he hoped the two sides could agree to another ceasefire.

Santos did not specify a start date for the renewed talks, but said the government negotiators will travel back to Quito. Hours earlier the ELN issued a statement on their website saying they were going back to the negotiation table with “the conviction that it is better to carry out the dialogue in the midst of a bilateral ceasefire, and that the agreed agenda must be developed with diligence and speed."

Colombia's second-largest rebel group began formal peace negotiations with the government 13 January 2017 in talks hosted by Ecuador. The opening phase of these talks was held in Quito, Ecuador, and brought government representatives and ELN peace delegates to the negotiating table to work through a six-point agenda.

Negotiations were initially set to begin on 27 October 2016, but President Juan Manuel Santos called off the meeting at the last minute, just hours before the event was set to begin, citing as the sticking point the ELN's failure to first release a hostage, former member of Congress Odin Sanchez. The move revealed differing interpretations of preliminary agreements, as the ELN maintained it planned to release Sanchez once talks were underway and also asked the government to pardon two ELN prisoners in a show of reciprocity.

The National Liberation Army, or ELN, has confirmed its willingness to begin peace talks with the government but stressed that the rebel group would want to see a different process than the one carried out with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. A peace process with its own ranks would be marked by key "sovereign" differences. In particular, ELN leaders have stressed the importance of the democratic participation of Colombian people, especially marginalized groups. Juan Camilo Restrepo, former minister of agriculture, was designated as lead negotiator for the government, while Pablo Beltran would be the lead negotiator on behalf of the rebel group. The talks would cover six major points, agreed to in preliminary negotiations, which are: the participation of civil society in the peace-building process, democracy for peace, transformation for peace, victims, ending the conflict, and implementation of the agreements. The roadmap overlaps considerably with the cornerstones of the agreement between the government and the FARC, highlighting the root causes of inequality underlying the conflict.

Peace talks

The first ELN commander, Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista, known by his nom de guerre Gabino, and FARC commander Timoleon Jimenez, known by his alias Timochenko, have long called on the government "to advance discussions with all the insurgency" to end the Colombian conflict. Like the FARC, the ELN has attempted peace talks with past governments to no avail.

ELN began a dialogue with Colombian officials in 1998-99 following a campaign of mass kidnappings-each involving at least one US citizen-to demonstrate its strength and continuing viability and force the Pastrana administration to negotiate. Peace talks between Bogota and the ELN, started in 1999, continued sporadically but had broken down by year's end.

Peace talks between the government and the ELN, on and off since 1998, collapsed at the end of 2002. . Negotiations in 2001 with then-President Andres Pastrana's government quickly broke down. three rounds of attempted talks with the subsequent government of far-right President Alvaro Uribe in the early and mid-2000s also failed. Both rebel groups seek to transition from military-style formations into political parties through peace agreements to trade their weapons for participation in sanctioned political arenas.

The ELN and the government began a round of talks with the Colombian Government mediated by the Mexican Government in mid-2004. The ELN withdrew from the talks after the Mexican Government voted to condemn Cuba's human rights record at the United Nations in April 2005. In December 2005, the ELN began a new round of talks with the Colombian Government in Cuba that led to multiple rounds of meetings, the latest one being held in late 2007 in Caracas, Venezuela. Attempts for talks with the Colombian Government have broken down.

ELN developed a comprehensive basic framework agreement during talks that stalled in early 2008. ELN's Central Command (COCE) had indicated interest in reviving those talks under appropriate conditions. The ELN process had been facilitated initially by Cuban government officials expert in peace talks, resulting in a substantive but incomplete peace proposal.

Colombia would not enter peace talks with the country's second-biggest guerrilla group, the ELN, until it releases captives including a Canadian citizen held hostage since January, President Juan Manuel Santos said on May 09, 2013. “Eventually, if the ELN decides to enter, and for us to agree, it has to free its captives, above all the Canadian it holds,'' Santos said during an address to soldiers in Bogota. ELN released the kidnapped Canadian mining executive as a show of good faith. In January 2014, the two sides began preliminary discussions on a pact.

The ELN held preliminary peace talks with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos sicen 2014, but formal negotiations had yet to begin. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced June 10, 2014 that the government had been holding preliminary peace talks with the country's second largest leftist rebel group. Santos said talks with the National Liberation Army, or ELN, began earlier this year in Havana. The Colombian leader said there will be no formal talks until the ELN meets certain conditions, which he did not spell out.

Colombia's second-biggest leftist rebel group, the National Liberation Army, would be willing to declare a cease-fire if peace talks to end 50 years of war with the government begin, it said on 07 January 2015. The National Liberation Army had expressed interest in seeking a peace accord similar to the one being discussed in Cuba with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The rebel group, like the FARC, objects to foreign companies exploiting the land and damaging the environment. Both insurgent groups want the government to change the way it deals with overseas investors, something the government has refused to consider. It has sought peace before, holding talks in Cuba and Venezuela between 2002 and 2007.

The National Liberation Army declared a 72-hour armed lockdown in areas where they operated, restricting transport and commerce amid signs of further delays in their efforts to begin peace talks. The lockdown began 14 February 2016. "We have directed all the combatant forces of the National Liberation Army to take part in an armed strike," the country's second-largest rebel group said in a statement on its website. During similar lockdowns in the past, rebels had forced shops to close and buses to halt transport along routes.

The rebel army and the government agreed in Caracas, Venezuela, on 30 March 2016 to launch a peace process, marking a major breakthrough after two years of secretive exploratory talks. But no further steps had been taken after that until after the signing of the peace deal with the FARC last month. The ELN had announced that the public phase of the talks would begin in May 2016, and said it is willing to work together with government officials to achieve a peace agreement, but the government had tried to modify those agreements.


Founded in 1964 and inspired by the Cuban revolution and its iconic leader Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the ELN Marxist insurgent group is smaller and less well-known than the FARC, which consolidated the same year in a different part of the country. The ELN, inspired by the Cuban revolution and established by radical Catholic priests, has battled a dozen governments since it was founded in 1964.

In the early 1960s when armed struggle emerged as the strategy for these groups, Colombia was living the aftermath of a brutal ten-year conflict between Liberals and Conservatives known simply as “La Violencia.” The civil war decimated mostly rural areas of the country and gave way to a crackdown on self-organized communist communities that were seen as a threat to elite interests. While the FARC emerged directly from these rural roots as a group of armed campesinos in the Tolima department, southwest of Bogota, the ELN was formed by left-wing intellectuals, students, and Catholic radicals in the northern department of Santander.

Among the ELN's founders were five Colombians who had traveled in the early 1960s to study revolutionary strategy in Cuba, where in 1962 they founded a liberation brigade named after the Colombian colonial-era insurrectionist, Jose Antonio Galan. They were later joined by several priests who adhered to liberation theology, and the brigade founded in Cuba influenced the ELN's ideology and revolutionary methods.

In spite of their differing origins, the FARC and ELN's political programs have overlapped considerably from the outset, with a focus — despite some ideological differences — on revolutionary Marxist demands to fight inequality and imperialism on behalf of the rural poor and marginalized.

According to the first ELN commander, Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista, known by his nom de guerre Gabino, the group was created with the aim of "fighting alongside the oppressed and exploited in Colombia and continuing to confront the challenges of the oligarchs." The ELN opted for an armed struggle model after all other options were taken off the table by a repressive and murderous Colombian state. Similar to the FARC, it aimed to fight in favor of the social needs of the population while standing against exploitation. One important difference is that, like the Cuban revolution it emulated, the ELN stated from the beginning that its goal was to seize state power — an objective that the rural-based FARC did not incorporate into its agrarian-focused political program until decades later.

The ELN continued to inflict casualties on the Colombian military through use of land mines and occasional attacks. It continued to fund its operations through narcotics trafficking. The ELN and FARC clashed over territory in northeastern and southern Colombia, although they cooperated in other areas. The ELN continued kidnapping and extortion.

The FARC and ELN in December 2009 issued a joint decree claiming the two groups planned to unite to fight the Colombian government. The communiqué claimed leaders of the two groups had met and forged an agreement to focus on cooperating to defeat the government and end U.S. influence in Colombia. Colombian Armed Forces Commander Freddy Padilla dismissed the announcement, pointing out that the two groups' longstanding ideological differences and ongoing confrontations over drug trafficking made such an alliance unlikely to succeed. Previous efforts to unify the two groups have failed.


The ELN remained active with approximately 2,000 fighters but with diminished resources and reduced offensive capability. B 2017 the ELN had between 2,000 and 3,000 active members since declining from its heyday of between 4,000 and 5,000 rebels in the late 1990s. The FARC, on the other hand, reached a force of nearly 20,000 at its peak and now has an estimated membership of 7,000. The were approximately 2,000 armed combatants and an unknown number of active supporters as of 2011. This was down from approximately 3,000 to 5,000 armed combatants and an unknown number of active supporters a decade earlier. In 2003 the ELN had between 4,000 and 5,000 fighters.

Total ELN strength in 2007 was estimated at some 2,500. The ELN was organized into 5 "War Fronts" (North, Northeast, Central, Southeast, and Northwest), which had authority over about 39 rural fronts, 9 urban fronts, and 7 companies. Fronts appear to have nominal strength of about 70, in many cases substantially fewer.

Location/Area of Operation

Mostly in rural and mountainous areas of north, northeast, and southwest Colombia and Venezuela border regions.

External Aid

Cuba provided some medical care and political consultation.


The National Liberation Army (ELN) operates primarily along Colombia's northeastern border with Venezuela and in central and northwestern Colombia. The territories under ELN influence include cannabis and opium poppy growing areas. Some ELN units raise funds through extortion or by protecting laboratory operations. Some ELN units may be independently involved in limited cocaine laboratory operations, but the ELN appears to be much less dependent than the FARC on coca and cocaine profits to fund its operations. The ELN expresses a disdain for illegal drugs, but does take advantage of the profits available where it controls coca producing areas.

Kidnapping, hijacking, bombing, and extortion. Minimal conventional military capability. Annually conducts hundreds of kidnappings for ransom, often targeting foreign employees of large corporations, especially in the petroleum industry. Derives some revenue from taxation of the illegal narcotics industry. Frequently assaults energy infrastructure and has inflicted major damage on pipelines and the electric distribution network.

On August 24, 2001, the National Liberation Army (ELN) terrorist organization in Colombia exploded powerful bombs in the cities of Medellin and Cucuta in the Norte de Santander Department. In Medellin, the bomb was planted behind a radio facility. The terrorists planted 35 kilograms of explosives in a trash container. Twenty-one people were injured and two buildings were destroyed. One hundred and forty families were affected by the terrorist attack. Six vehicles were also severely damaged. In Cucuta, the terrorists planted a car bomb in front of the governor's office. The most affected were civilians and storeowners. The loss among the storeowners was estimated at 400 million Colombian Pesos. The ELN had also planted six car bombs along several highways in the Norte de Santander Department 15 days earlier.

On December 6, 1999, the National Liberation Army (ELN) terrorist group exploded two bombs in government offices in the city of Medellin, Colombia, in an attempt to force the Mines Minister to resign. In addition to the minister's resignation, the terrorists aimed to stop the government sale of an electricity generating company (Isagen). In the first attack, the terrorists exploded a car bomb parked in front of the Isagen complex. A security guard was slightly injured and the building suffered considerable damage. The vehicle, loaded with about 35 kg of dynamite, had been stolen by the terrorists the day before and was left abandoned in front of Isagen early in the morning. Another bomb exploded near the regional office of the Labor Ministry located in downtown Medellin. The building was considerably damaged but there were no casualties. Previously, in less than a month, the ELN had also destroyed about 100 power pylons in northwestern Colombia, demanding that the government abandon efforts to privatize the electricity companies.

President Uribe's strong efforts to uproot the illegal guerilla groups in Colombia had a devastating effect on the ELN. The government successfully uprooted the ELN from their strongholds in Antioquia and Araucal and reduced its numbers to the point where they were all but eliminated militarily. Its numbers were estimated to be slightly above 3000 members. In response to the government crackdown, the ELN announced an alliance with the FARC in 2003 and claimed to be fighting side by side with Colombia’ largest guerilla army even through both groups ideology deviated significantly from one another.

Although kidnappings were down, by 2003 Colombia, with more than a thousand abductions in the first seven months of the year, remained far and away the world's kidnapping leader, with the FARC responsible for nearly 40 percent, the ELN a little over 20 percent, and paramilitaries about 12 percent. And although homicides declined generally, political killings at the hands of illegal armed groups, as a separate category, remained steady at around 4,000 per year according to some human rights groups, while other rights groups put the figure as high as 7,000. There was also an increase in the number of forced disappearances, with very few cases ever resolved.

The FARC's intelligence and operational networks, as well as the ELN's, include out-sourcing of the initial stages of the kidnapping process. The researching of victims is often carried out by specialized kidnapping groups or organized crime organizations who sell victims to the FARC and the ELN. Kidnap researchers make detailed investigations into the wealth of potential targets and often bribe bank officials to provide account information. Similarly, people inside households such as maids, and employees inside companies, are threatened and/or paid to provide information about a target's daily routines. In the principal cities, particularly Bogotá, the actual kidnappings are often contracted out to experienced criminals who operate under the supervision of guerrilla units. Some of the specialized kidnapping groups that do business with the FARC and ELN have connections with members of state security organizations.

The ELN, like the FARC, was able to infiltrate the judiciary and security forces in certain areas of the country and gain influence over judges and prosecutors. In March 2003, President Uribe himself denounced that in Norte de Santander department, "There are prosecutors who have been appointed through favoritism and who are in the service of the ELN".

As of 2006 the ELN, through dialogue with Cuban mediators, had agreed to enter into peace negotiations with the Colombian government. There had been several past attempts by the ELN to conduct negotiations with the central government, all which had ended in dissatisfaction of the terms and no conclusive agreement.

By 2008 debriefings of demobilized ELN fighters showed increasing involvement by ELN fronts in a wide range of narcotics trafficking activities. The ELN's Central Command (COCE) had permitted fronts to engage in narcotrafficking since 1998, when income from kidnappings and extortion started to decline. By 2007 ELN fronts in Arauca, North Santander, Antioquia, south Bolivar, Valle del Cauca, and Narino departments received 90 percent of their income from narco activities. about 80 percent of narco proceeds went to the "cuadrilla," or front sub-unit, responsible for collecting them, and were used for general expenses. Another 10 percent went to the front's leadership directorate, with the balance sent to the COCE. ELN narco activities ranged from cultivation to processing. They also taxed campesinos and made direct sales to traffickers, mostly in Medellin. ELN's production of cocaine base was less than that of the FARC, with heavy taxing of laboratories and growers being more common. Tthe ELN's "political project" was fighting a losing battle against the huge profits available to fronts from drugs.

In recent years, the ELN has launched joint attacks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia's largest terrorist organization. Authorities believe that the ELN kidnapped at least 25 people and was involved in at least 23 attacks in 2010, some of which were carried out jointly with the FARC.

The two Colombia-based terrorist groups significantly increased their attacks in 2011 as they attempted to undermine the October 30 national elections. Attacks on Colombia's oil and gas industry also significantly increased resulting in major economic damage, and numerous deaths and kidnappings. On 25 June 2011, ELN attacked a police outpost in Colon Genova, Narino, killing eight civilians, including a child, and wounding four others. On October 30 – election day – the ELN attempted to kill the Vice President of the House of Representatives, killing his driver but missing the Vice President.

The ELN continued to commit serious abuses against civilians. In the province of Chocó, for example, the ELN was responsible for kidnappings, killings, forced displacement, and child recruitment. In March, ELN guerrillas released a mayor from that province whom they had kidnapped in December 2014.

On 27 October 2015 rebels ambushed a group carrying regional election ballots, killing 12 members of the security forces. The group had left an indigenous reservation near the town of Guican when it was hit, defence minister Luis Carlos Villegas said. He said the National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia's second-biggest rebel group, was behind the attack.

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Page last modified: 16-03-2018 12:52:46 ZULU