A top commander of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group has died of injuries sustained in a military bombing, the government said.
Angel Padilla Romero, known by his alias Fabian, headed the ELN’s Western Front and died in a hospital in Cali, the country’s third-largest city, Defence Minister Diego Molano told reporters on Tuesday.
Romero was taken to hospital after being found injured in the jungles of Choco province, one of the rebel group’s strongholds, 10 days after the bombing.
“We have made the hardest hit against the ELN in the course of the government of President Ivan Duque,” Colombian Defence Minister Diego Molano said during a news conference, describing the rebel commander as “the most important leader of the ELN still in Colombia”.
“We captured him alive, we gave first aid and he was moved to a hospital in Cali where he died while receiving medical attention,” said Molano, adding that seven other rebels were also killed in the bombing.
Colombian President Ivan Duque said on Twitter that the “narco-terrorist” and “assassin” had been “neutralised”.
“He was a criminal of the greatest danger,” added Molano, who called Fabian “the author of many murders, kidnappings” and described him as a “drug trafficking ringleader” behind the displacement of thousands of people.
The ELN is the last active rebel organisation operating in Colombia after a 2016 peace agreement that officially disarmed the country’s main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Some FARC dissidents remain active in the South American nation, however, while the ELN has some active 2,300 combatants and an extensive support network in urban centres. Colombia, which has been rocked by mass anti-government protests this year, also experienced a surge in violence in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a report in March that 389 people – mostly civilians were killed by explosive devices last year. That is the highest tally since 2016, when the peace deal between the government and the FARC was signed. The country faces at least five continuing conflicts with armed groups, the ICRC said, adding that civilians were paying the price of the surge in violence.
The United Nations also said earlier this year that violence was “intensifying” in Colombia, especially in remote parts of the country, and that killing of human rights activists have been on the rise. Romero’s death is the most important strike against the ELN since fellow commander “Uriel” was killed in a military operation in October last year.
Duque in 2019 ended negotiations with the group after the rebels claimed a car bomb attack that killed 22 police cadets, resuming military operations against the ELN instead.