January 23, 2019 / 6:00 PM / 9 months ago

Colombia bombing, extradition request roil already stagnant peace talks

BOGOTA (Reuters) - The countries overseeing the long-stalled peace talks between Colombia’s government and longtime ELN insurgency were divided on Wednesday over Havana’s refusal to extradite 10 rebel leaders following a bomb attack in Bogota last week that killed 21 people.

FILE PHOTO: People take part in a rally against violence, following a car bomb explosion, in Bogota, Colombia January 20, 2019. The placard reads, "Peace". REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez/File Photo

Colombia President Ivan Duque reactivated Interpol red notices against the leaders from the National Liberation Army (ELN) after the car bomb blast at a police academy in the capital city, whose victims were mostly young police cadets.

Guarantors Cuba and Norway do not support extradition, while Chile said on Tuesday it does. Venezuela and Brazil have not yet commented.

Growing fears that Colombia may now face a fresh wave of bombings have scuppered hopes that talks might resume in the near future.

Cuba has condemned the bombing but said it would follow protocols agreed at the start of negotiations in 2017. These provide security guarantees for guerrilla commanders to return to Colombia or Venezuela within 15 days of an end to talks and bar military offensives for 72 hours.

The rebel leadership has remained in Havana, where the talks were taking place.

Norway said on Tuesday it also backed use of the protocols.

Duque has said the protocols do not apply since his government never participated in talks. Some analysts say the country will be obliged to accept the protocols despite the change in presidential administrations.

“What I ask of (Norway) and all the governments is that they understand that what happened last week was not a divergence of opinions, what happened was an international crime that ended the lives of many undefended, unarmed youths,” Duque told journalists at the World Economic Forum.

Duque had refused to restart the negotiations, begun by his predecessor, until the ELN freed all hostages and stopped criminal activities.

Though the notoriously decentralized ELN claimed responsibility and called the attack a legitimate attack of war, its leaders in Cuba have said they were not involved.

Last week ELN explosives expert Jose Aldemar Rojas drove an SUV packed with 80 kilograms (176 lbs) of explosive pentolite onto the grounds of the police academy.

The subsequent explosion killed 20 cadets between the ages of 18 and 23 and Rojas himself.

Though bombings were common during the height of the Andean country’s 50-year internal conflict, recent rebel attacks have largely focused on oil infrastructure.

Police stations were targeted in a series of ELN bombings in early 2018 and one of Bogota’s most upscale malls was bombed in 2017.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by David Gregorio

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