Twenty National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish) members, recognized as the last guerrilla in Colombia, surrendered to the military following clashes in the Cauca department in the southwestern part of the country, Colombian President Iván Duque announced on April 29, via Twitter. Colombian Minister of Defense Carlos Holmes-Trujillo echoed Duque’s announcement, congratulating members of the military who carried out the operation.
Troops from the army’s Third Division, the Air Force, Joint Special Operations Command, and a unit from the Rapid Deployment Force, clashed with guerilla forces in the turbulent region of the country that has been hard hit by armed conflict of various armed groups for more than 50 years, due to its strategic position for drug trafficking to the United States and Central America.
A large weapons cache, which included assault rifles, handguns, grenade launchers, and improvised explosive devices, was also found during the operation.
“Our forces will continue to maintain their presence and their fight in this region against all the criminal organizations that intimidate and cause harm to the civilian population in their desire to profit from drug trafficking,” Holmes Trujillo said.
The surrender occurred amid the unilateral cease-fire decreed by the ELN between April 1 and 30, due to the coronavirus pandemic, and also comes as the Colombian High Commissioner for Peace announced on April 29 new incentives such as legal benefits and reduced sentences for individuals who leave crime gangs and dissident groups.
Prior to that announcement, those benefits applied only to those who demobilized from the ELN. The expanded policy will now include those leaving dissident groups of former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish), and the Clan del Golfo, Los Pelusos and Los Caparros crime gangs.
Some 4,400 ELN guerrillas have taken advantage of this initiative, according to the office of the High Commissioner for Peace.