Impressive List of Experts Urge China to Free Canadians

More than 100 academics and former diplomats are calling on China to release two Canadians who have been detained in apparent retaliation for the arrest of a top Chinese tech executive in Canada.

The letter by a wide array of China experts from around the world is addressed to Chinese President Xi Jinping. It says the arrests of the two Canadians sends a worrisome signal to those who work in policy and research in China.

China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor on Dec. 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested Dec. 1 at the request of U.S. authorities.

Meng is the chief financial officer of the Chinese tech giant Huawei and the daughter of its founder. The U.S. wants her extradited to face charges that she committed fraud by misleading banks about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran.

Bridge builders

The letter, released Monday, notes Kovrig is a former diplomat who was working as an expert on Asia for the International Crisis Group think tank. It notes that Spavor devoted his time to building relationships between North Korea and China, Canada and United States.

It praises Kovrig and Spavor as bridge-builders between China and the world and said their arrests make writers “more cautious” about traveling to China.

“Meetings and exchanges are the foundation of serious research and diplomacy around the world, including for Chinese scholars and diplomats,” the letter says. “Kovrig and Spavor’s detentions send a message that this kind of constructive work is unwelcome and even risky in China.”

The letter said the arrests will lead to “less dialogue and greater distrust, and undermine efforts to manage disagreements and identify common ground. Both China and the rest of the world will be worse off as a result.”

Impressive list of experts

More than 20 diplomats from seven countries and more than 100 scholars and academics from 19 countries signed.

Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, signed the letter and noted it comes as Canada is working to rally international support for the case.

“It will be noticed in Beijing and I hope that it will make clear for them that the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor are not only a China-Canada problem but it’s also having an impact on the image of and reputation of China,” Saint-Jacques said. “It’s an impressive list.”

The signatories include former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and Chris Patten, former British governor of Hong Kong. Two former U.S. ambassadors to China, Gary Locke and Winston Lord, also signed.

David Mulroney, another former Canadian ambassador to China, said the letter is significant because it shows the international breadth of support for the two men.

“This isn’t simply a Canada-China dispute,” Mulroney said. “A lot of serious people, including many who have spent years working in China, are worried about how it is closing itself off, and punishing those who seek to understand and interpret it for others.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he encourages friends and allies around the world to point out that all countries should stand up for the rule of law.

Rio to Test Facial-Recognition Cameras During Carnival

Rio de Janeiro plans to test a facial-recognition system during its famed Carnival as part of the city’s campaign to fight crime, the head of the regional police force said.

Rogerio Figueiredo, the new head of Rio de Janeiro’s state police, said in an interview published Monday by the O Globo newspaper that cameras deployed with the technology will scan both faces and car license plates.

It will be operational in Rio’s tourist hotspot of Copacabana in the beginning of March, when this year’s Carnival takes place.

“If (the cameras) identify an individual under an arrest warrant, or if a stolen vehicle drives through the area, an alert will be sent to the closest police car,” Figueiredo explained.

“It’s a fantastic tool. It’s time that the police modernize.”

Street crime common

Rio, which hosted the 2016 Olympic Games, has long suffered from street crime, with exchanges of gunfire common between drug-dealing gangs and police.

Last year’s Carnival was marred by numerous crimes in tourist areas, especially close to the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema.

Television images showed groups of youths carrying out mass robberies by running into crowds and taking possessions by force.

Shortly after that Carnival, former president Michel Temer signed a decree controversially putting Rio’s security forces under military control until the end of the year.

Hard line on crime

With new anti-crime president Jair Bolsonaro installed Jan. 1 and ally Wilson Witzel taking over as Rio’s governor, local authorities are poised to take a hard line on crime.

Witzel, for instance, has evoked using police snipers to kill armed suspects, even if they are not directly threatening anyone with their weapon.

Reports say the governor is also looking to acquire Israeli surveillance drones that are capable of firing on suspected drug gang members. 

Venezuela Claims to Foil Revolt by National Guardsmen

Venezuelan security forces have arrested 27 National Guardsmen, after they allegedly revolted against the government of President Nicolas Maduro, the Defense Ministry said.

The ministry said “a small group” of National Guard members had taken four hostages and stolen weapons from an outpost in Caracas’ Cotiza neighborhood during a pre-dawn insurgency. 

Venezuelan officials said the 27 were arrested and more could follow as the investigation unfolds.  

All weapons recovered

The military said it had recovered all the weapons and captured those involved in what it described as “treasonous” acts motivated by “obscure interests tied to the far right.”

It said the revolt began at around 2:50 a.m. local time when the men took over a police station in western Caracas. They then moved across the capital in two military trucks to the poor neighborhood of Petare, where they stole a cache of weapons from another outpost. 

They were arrested a short time later at a national guard outpost 3 kilometers from the presidential palace.

A few hours earlier, a group of guardsmen also reportedly posted videos on social media saying they won’t recognize the Maduro government and urged him to leave office. They asked those seeing the video to help them overthrow the government. 

Protesters show support

The failed revolt sparked protests in the poor neighborhoods of the capital as the news spread.  At daybreak in Cotiza, a group of young men built a barricade across the street with a burning car, heavy sewer grates and a large chunk of concrete.  “Freedom! Freedom!” they chanted. “Maduro has to go!” 

Maduro’s administration has come under increasing domestic and international pressure as he begins a second term that that the opposition-led congress considers illegitimate. 

Death Toll in Mexico Pipeline Fire Climbs to 89

The death toll in a massive fire at an illegally tapped pipeline in Mexico rose to 89 Monday as more of the injured died at hospitals.

Health Secretary Jorge Alcocer said 51 victims severely burned in the fire were still in hospitals, two of them in Galveston, Texas.

The victims were gathering gasoline from an illegal pipeline tap in the central state of Hidalgo on Friday when the gas ignited, littering an alfalfa field with charred bodies.

The government reported Monday that an astonishing 14,894 such illegal taps had been found in 2018, an average of about 41 per day nationwide.

Hidalgo was the state with the highest number of such taps, with 2,121. The fire occurred in the small farming town of Tlahuelilpan, where 38 such taps were found in 2017 and 23 in 2018.

The fire occurred on a 14-inch underground steel pipeline that had been drilled, tapped and patched before.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Mexico’s fuel ducts are antiquated and decaying.

“These pipelines haven’t been changed in more than 30 years, with thousands of illegal taps, patched-up pipelines without the capacity to carry fuel,” he said Monday. “That is why it was decided to expand delivery with tanker trucks.”

He said the government has signed contracts to buy 571 gas tanker trucks, which would be operated by the army. Civilian drivers have been recruited, but are now living at army bases, waiting for the trucks to arrive.

Fuel shortages

Lopez Obrador said he hopes to pay for some of the trucks by selling off the fleet of presidential and bodyguard vehicles which he has refused to use, as part of his government austerity plan.

Lopez Obrador launched an offensive against illegal taps soon after taking office Dec. 1, deploying 3,200 marines to guard pipelines and refineries while shutting off pipelines where taps were detected.

The pipeline shutdowns have resulted in fuel shortages and long lines at gas stations, something that might have swelled the number looking to gather illegal gas in the field where the fire broke out.

Tlahuelilpan resident Arely Calva Martinez said her brother, Marco Alfredo Calva, had been in the field Friday and still hasn’t been found. About 57 of the charred bodies were so badly burned they couldn’t be recognized.

Calva Martinez said Marco, a teacher, needed gas to drive 1-1/2 hours each day to his job as a teacher.

“They didn’t have gas because the gas stations weren’t selling any, and he needed to get to work,” said Calva Martinez. “I believe that if the gas stations had been selling gas, a lot of those people wouldn’t have been there,” she said of the victims.

Fear, Zeal Over More Guns in Violence-Plagued Brazil

Fearing for his safety amid rising crime in Latin America’s largest nation, Paulo Alberto joined a gun club three years ago and learned to shoot. But he says Brazil’s tight carry laws that mean he can’t take his gun anywhere but to the club limit his ability to protect himself outside his home.

“The current laws are very strict and end up helping out the thugs,” Alberto said between rounds at the Calibre 12 gun club in this city across Guanabara Bay from Rio de Janeiro. “We need laws to make it easier to both possess and carry guns.”

It’s a view held by many, including Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro. On Tuesday, Bolsonaro, a former army captain who waves to supporters with his hands in the shape of pistols, took a first step toward dramatically increasing the number of guns in Brazil, the nation that leads the world in total homicides.

By decree, Bolsonaro eliminated the requirement that aspiring gun owners justify to federal police officials why they need a firearm, creating instead a wide range of qualifying circumstances. The categories are so broad — citizens living in rural areas, those in urban areas with high levels of homicide, business owners, gun collectors and hunters — that just about any citizen age 25 or older wanting a firearm could effectively get one.

Prospective gun owners must still meet requirements that include not having a criminal record, taking a psychological exam and getting training from a gun club. And the restriction most despised by gun proponents — the right of civilians to carry — remains intact, at least for now.

During Tuesday’s announcement, Bolsonaro said that more reforms would be “pursued legislatively,” referring to carry laws.

Such changes energize supporters and are a potential boon for major gun makers. On Bolsonaro’s first day in office earlier this month, stocks of gun manufacturer Forjas Taurus jumped 30 percent.

For civil rights groups, security experts and many in Brazil’s violence-wracked slums the potential changes are terrifying.

Myriad studies in Brazil and the United States show that more guns lead to higher homicide rates. That is a scary prospect in a country that in 2017 broke its own record for murders, with nearly 64,000 killed — 70 percent by firearms — the most recent figures available.

“We are talking about life and death,” said Ilona Szabo, co-founder of Igarape, a think tank that focuses on public security. “This is not something to play with in the most murderous country in the world.”

Szabo and other security experts argue that instead of expanding access to guns, current guns laws should be more rigorously enforced.

In a scathing editorial titled “Reckless Decree,” the Rio de Janeiro daily O Globo said there was already little oversight of gun owners and noted that a major investigation by Rio de Janeiro’s state legislature in 2011 found that the vast majority of illegally trafficked guns started out legal.

“There is no guarantee that facilitating [gun] possession will be paired with any effective control,” it said.

Bolsonaro’s decree made no mention of beefing up the current reporting system. In contrast, it extended the license renewal period from five to 10 years. In Congress, the pro-gun lobby known as the “bullet caucus” has made clear its focus is deregulation, not adding more administrative hoops.

Since major legislation to tighten gun laws was passed in 2003, the pro-gun lobby has put forward several bills to expand access and availability of firearms. These include sanctioning the carrying of concealed weapons, increasing the number of guns an individual can own and how much ammunition they can buy.

Those bills have been defeated by the previous four administrations led by the left-leaning Workers’ Party. But political analysts say Bolsonaro’s strong electoral victory in October combined with deep frustration over violence means they now have a good chance of passing.

Still, polls have consistently shown that a majority of Brazilians are not convinced that more guns are a good idea.

A Datafolha poll published at the end of last year found that 61 percent of those surveyed believe firearms should be prohibited and pose a threat to others. The poll, which surveyed 2,077 people, had a margin of error of 2 percent.

Similar to arguments made by the National Rifle Association in the U.S., supporters of loosened gun laws frequently argue that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

The debate comes with a disconcerting backdrop: Nobody knows how many guns are already in circulation in Brazil, a nation of 210 million people bordered by more than half a dozen countries.

In the wake of the 2003 legislation to restrict firearm possession, studies estimated the number of guns at around 17.5 million, both legally and illegally owned.

Since then, however, security experts say there have been no definitive studies, in part because the tracking of guns has never been properly funded or implemented.

Proponents of looser regulation contend that, given the failure of successive governments to ensure security, citizens have a right to protect themselves by being armed.

But an incident involving Bolsonaro himself would seem to illustrate how carrying a gun doesn’t necessarily mean protection. In 1995, the then congressman was confronted by two gunmen while riding his motorcycle in Barra da Tijuca, an affluent Rio neighborhood.

They stole Bolsonaro’s motorcycle and a Glock 380 pistol, which he was allowed to carry as a former member of the military.

“Even armed, I felt defenseless,” Bolsonaro told local newspapers at the time.

Despite the incident, Bolsonaro and other administration officials argue civilians need guns to protect themselves.

Sen. Major Olimpio, a member of Bolsonaro’s party, said earlier this month that Congress would move toward repealing parts of the 2003 disarmament legislation.

“It’s a big fallacy to say that guns will increase violence,” Olimpio told Globo News TV. “Illegal weapons are involved in crimes.”

Guns possessed illegally are at the center of many crimes in Brazil, particularly those involving drug-trafficking gangs, who often brandish automatic weapons in the poor neighborhoods they control. However, these weapons often start out as legally owned by police, military personnel or the security companies many rich people hire for safety.

Given the reality that many guns wind up in criminals’ hands through theft or corruption, opponents of more lax laws argue that more legal guns will only translate into more illegal guns and crime.

Among them is 32-year-old Camila Lima, who was hit by a stray bullet in the neck when she was 12 during a shootout between criminals and security guards in her Rio neighborhood that left her paralyzed.

She and her mother lobbied in favor of the 2003 legislation to tighten gun laws, and regret that the country is going in the other direction.

“If government officials want to arm the population, they should include a clause saying that they will be responsible for the victims,” Lima said. “I was shot, nobody took responsibility for that.”

Still, in a country where violence plays an outsized role in everyday life, some victims of gun violence believe the solution is arming up.

On Tuesday night, just hours after Bolsonaro issued his gun-law decree, 22-year-old Matheus Lessa was shot and killed while trying to protect his mother during a robbery in their family-owned store in Rio de Janeiro.

At his son’s funeral on Thursday, Luciano Lessa lamented that the family had no way to protect itself.

“The criminals can walk around armed, so why not working people?” a distraught Lessa asked. “We have to wait for them to shoot us like they shot my son?”

Ecuador to Tighten Controls on Venezuelan Immigrants After Murder

Ecuador is setting up new units to check Venezuelan immigrants’ legal status and may tighten entry requirements after a Venezuelan man murdered his pregnant Ecuadorian girlfriend, President Lenin Moreno said on Sunday.

The killing in the northern city of Ibarra is the first reported murder perpetrated by a Venezuelan immigrant in Ecuador since hundreds of thousands have arrived there after fleeing an economic crisis in Venezuela.

“I have ordered the immediate setting up of units to control Venezuelan immigrants’ legal status in the streets, in the workplace, and at the border,” Moreno said on Twitter.

The government, he added, may create a new “special permit” for Venezuelans to enter the country. He did not give further details about the units or how they will operate.

“Ecuador is and will be a country of peace. I will not allow any criminal to take that away from us,” he said.

The Venezuelan man held his victim hostage on a busy street for about an hour on Saturday evening before stabbing her to death. He was then arrested by police.

Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo said she had fired Ibarra’s police chief for not preventing the murder, which she said officers could have used force to prevent.

Ecuador estimates that some 1.3 million Venezuelans entered the country last year via Colombia, though most continue to Peru, fleeing a hyperinflationary collapse back home that has left millions unable to obtain basic food or medicine.

Last year, Ecuador’s government said it was changing entry requirements to require that Venezuelans present a passport, but a judge blocked that change.

The president of the Association of Venezuelans in Ecuador, Daniel Regalado, said the murder risked demonizing Venezuelans just because they did not have legal status.

“These are isolated cases and they don’t involve the whole Venezuelan community in Ecuador,” Regalado said in an interview.

Death Toll Reaches 79 in Mexico Fuel Pipeline Fire

They were warned to stay away from the geyser of gasoline gushing from the illegally tapped pipeline in central Mexico, but Gerardo Perez says he and his son joined others in bypassing the soldiers. As they neared the spurting fuel he was overcome with foreboding.

Perez recalls telling his son: “Let’s go … this thing is going to explode.”

 

And it did, with a fireball that engulfed locals scooping up the spilling gasoline and underscored the dangers of an epidemic of fuel theft from pipelines that Mexico’s new president has vowed to fight.

 

By Sunday morning the death toll from Friday’s blaze had risen to 79, with another 81 hospitalized in serious condition, according to federal Health Minister Jorge Alcocer. Dozens more were missing.

 

Perez and his son escaped the flames. On Saturday, he returned to the scorched field in the town of Tlahuelilpan in Hidalgo state to look for missing friends. It was a fruitless task. Only a handful of the remains still had skin. Dozens were burned to the bone or to ash when the gusher of gasoline exploded.

 

Just a few feet from where the pipeline passed through an alfalfa field, the dead seem to have fallen in heaps, perhaps as they stumbled over each other or tried to help one another as the geyser of gasoline turned to flames.

 

Several of the deceased lay on their backs, their arms stretched out in agony. Some seemed to have covered their chests in a last attempt to protect themselves from the blast. A few corpses seemed to embrace each other in death. Lost shoes were scattered around a space the size of a soccer field. Closer to the explosion, forensic workers marked mounds of ash with numbers.

 

On Friday, hundreds of people had gathered in an almost festive atmosphere in a field where the duct had been perforated by fuel thieves and gasoline spewed 20 feet into the air.

 

State oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, said the pipeline, which supplies much of central Mexico with fuel, had just reopened after being shut since Dec. 23 and that it had been breached 10 times over three months.

 

The tragedy came just three weeks after President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched an offensive against fuel theft gangs that had drilled dangerous, illegal taps into pipelines an astounding 12,581 times in the first 10 months of 2018, an average of about 42 per day. The crackdown has led to widespread fuel shortages at gas stations throughout the country as Pemex altered distribution, both licit and illicit.

 

Lopez Obrador vowed on Sunday to continue the fight against a practice that steals about $3 billion per year in fuel.

 

“Mexico needs to end corruption,” Lopez Obrador said. “This is not negotiable.”

 

He said he would offer financial aid to communities along pipelines that have become somewhat dependent on income from fuel theft rings.

 

Lopez Obrador faces an uphill fight against a practice that locals say is deeply rooted in the poor rural areas where pipelines pass, covered by only a foot or two of dirt. In some cases, locals support the fuel thieves.

 

Tlahuelilpan, population 20,000, is just 8 miles (13 kilometers) from Pemex’s Tula refinery. Pemex Chief Executive Octavio Romero said an estimated 10,000 barrels of premium gasoline were rushing through the pipeline with 20 kilograms of pressure when it was ruptured.

 

Locals on Saturday expressed both sympathy and consternation toward the president’s war on fuel gangs.

 

Arely Calva Martinez said the recent shortages at gas stations raised the temptation to salvage fuel from the gusher.

 

Her brother Marco Alfredo, a teacher, was desperate for gas to drive 90 minutes back and forth to work when word spread via Facebook that fuel spewing into the field. Marco Alfredo and another brother, Yonathan, were in the field when the fire erupted. They haven’t been seen since.

 

“I think if there had been gas in the gas stations, many of these people wouldn’t have been here,” Calva Martinez said while holding a picture of her brothers.

 

Tears streamed down Erica Bautista’s cheeks as she held up her cellphone with pictures of her brother, Valentin Hernandez Cornejo, 24, a taxi driver, and his wife, Yesica, both of whom are also missing. Valentin faced “enormous lines” for a limited ration of gas, she said. Then he received a phone call alerting him to the fuel spill.

 

“We want to at least find a cadaver,” she said while weeping.

 

Health officials were taking DNA samples from direct relatives at the local community center in Tlahuelilpan to aid in identification. Outside, a long, chilling list of the missing was taped to a window.

 

Wrapped in a blanket, Hugo Olvera Estrada said he had gone to six nearby hospitals looking for his 13-year-old son, who had joined the crowd at the fuel spill. He hasn’t been seen since.

 

“Ay, no, where is my son?” he wailed.

 

Lopez Obrador launched the offensive against illegal taps soon after taking office Dec. 1, deploying 3,200 marines to guard pipelines and refineries. His administration also shut down pipelines to detect and deter illegal taps, relying more on delivering fuel by tanker truck.

 

Mexican Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio said there are 50 soldiers stationed every 12 miles along the pipelines, and that they patrol 24 hours a day. But the soldiers have been ordered not to engage with fuel thieves out of fear that an escalation could result in more shootings of unarmed civilians or more soldiers being beaten by a mob.

 

“We don’t want this sort of confrontation,” Cresencio said.

 

A second pipeline burst into flames Friday in the neighboring state of Queretaro as a result of another illegal tap. But in this fire there were no reported casualties.

 

In December 2010, authorities also blamed thieves for a pipeline explosion in a central Mexico near the capital that killed 28 people, including 13 children.

Major Quake Hits Chile; No Tsunami, Little Damage

A 6.7-magnitude earthquake has shaken cities on Chile’s northern coast. No damages have been reported so far, but Chile’s National Emergency Office ordered a preventative evacuation of a stretch of coast near the city of Coquimbo.

Chilean authorities said the quake didn’t have the characteristics that would generate a tsunami. The U.S. Tsunami Warning System also ruled out a tsunami.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter of the magnitude-6.7 quake was 15.6 kilometers (9.7 miles) south-southwest of Coquimbo, and had a depth of 53 kilometers. It struck at 7:32 p.m. local time.

A witness told Reuters there was minor damage to older buildings and power outages in the nearby coastal city of La Serena, a popular beach town about 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Santiago.

“It felt very strong … the tourists were very nervous, but nothing serious happened,” Camila Castillo, a receptionist at a hotel in La Serena, told Reuters.

Chilean miner Antofagasta Plc said operations were normal at its Los Pelambres copper mine following the nearby earthquake.

Chile is located along the so-called Ring of Fire, which makes it one of the most seismic countries in the world. An 8.8-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami in 2010 killed 525 people.

Mexico Pipeline Blast Death Toll Climbs to More Than 70

The death toll from Friday’s fuel pipeline explosion in central Mexico has climbed to 73, the governor of the country’s Hidalgo state said.

Governor Omar Fayad also said Saturday at a news conference in Mexico City that at least 74 others were injured.

A leak and the resulting blast were caused by fuel thieves illegally tapping into a gas pipeline in Hidalgo state, officials said.

Video footage showed the fuel gushing into the air and people collecting gas in buckets, garbage cans and other containers before the explosion.

A number of people at the scene told Reuters that local shortages in gasoline supply since Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched a drive to stamp out fuel theft had encouraged the rush to the gushing pipeline.

“Everyone came to see if they could get a bit of gasoline for their car, there isn’t any in the gas stations,” said farmer Isaias Garcia, 50. Garcia was at the site with two neighbors, but waited in the car some distance away. “Some people came out burning and screaming,” he added.

Fayad said the condition of many of the injured was deteriorating, and that some had burns on much of their body. Some of the most badly injured minors could be moved for medical attention in Galveston, Texas, he added.

“I urge the entire population not to be complicit in fuel theft,” Fayad said. “Apart from being illegal, it puts your life and those of your families at risk.”

Lopez Obrador, who has launched a crackdown on fuel theft, called on “the entire government” to assist the people at the site of the explosion.

The government says fuel theft costs the country about $3 billion a year.

 

Colombia Asks Cuba to Arrest ELN Leaders

Following a deadly suicide truck bombing on a police academy near Bogota, the president of Colombia has called on Cuba to arrest 10 commanders of the Colombian ELN rebel group who are in Havana.

Ivan Duque said late Friday he is asking Cuba to “capture the terrorists who are inside its territory and hand them over to Colombian police.” He said no ideology could justify the cruelty of Thursday’s attack.

“It’s clear to all of Colombia that the ELN has no true desire for peace,” Duque said Friday in a televised address.

​Cuba responds

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, said in a statement, that Cuba “will act with strict respect for the Protocols of Dialogue and Peace signed by the Government and the ELN, including the Protocol In Case of a Rupture in Negotiations.”

The ELN commanders have been in Cuba following stalled peace talks there with Colombia.

Colombian authorities say Jose Aldemar Rojas, a one-armed ELN explosives expert, carried out the attack that killed 21 people and wounded dozens more. Officials say Rojas died in the attack.

“This was an operation that has been planned for the past 10 months,” said Defense Minister Guillermo Botero.

Largest rebel group

The ELN has not claimed responsibility for the attack.

The rebel group, however, has increased attacks on police since peace talks in Cuba stalled when the rebels refused to heed the government’s demand to free all hostages.

ELN is now the country’s largest armed rebel group since FARC disbanded and turned into a political party as part of a peace deal with the government.

Despite a long history of guerrilla violence in Colombia, major terrorist bombings in the country have been rare.