Some 1,100 members of the ELN, 45 percent of the fighters of the Guevarista guerrilla group, are taking refuge in Venezuela, said the commander of the Colombian Armed Forces, on May 8.
"We are talking about 45 percent of ELN troops, about 1,100 men," General Luis Fernando Navarro told reporters in the city of Cartagena.
The National Liberation Army (ELN), recognized as Colombia's last guerrilla group after the disarming of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2017, has some 2,300 combatants and an extensive support network, a source from the Armed Forces told AFP.
Navarro said that among the rebels who take refuge in the oil nation, with which Colombia shares a porous border of 2,200 kilometers, there are members of the Central Command (COCE), the ELN's governing body and its general staff.
The official said that the guerrilla commander, Gustavo Anibal Giraldo, known as Pablito, "remains" in the Venezuelan state of Apure.
Pablito, for whom the Colombian government is offering a reward of $1.3 million, is their strongest hard-liner with the greatest amount of firepower in the Guevarista group, according to experts.
"We have always said that there remain those structures and their leaders," said the general.
Since the government of former President Álvaro Uribe (2002-10), Colombia has claimed that Venezuela gives refuge to the ELN and to unarmed FARC members, accusations that Caracas denies.
The countries of the Lima Group — of which Colombia is a member — rejected in a communiqué on Friday "the protection" by the regime of Nicolás Maduro "to terrorist groups operating in the territory of Colombia."