Publish in Analysis - Monday, October 1, 2012
In February 2012, ELN kidnapped 11 Bicentennial pipeline contractors in Tame, Arauca. (Latinvex collage of ELN flag and Bicentennial pipeline photo)
The oil and mining industries are the sectors at highest risk of kidnap, shooting and IED attacks.
BY CARLOS CAICEDO
President Juan Manuel Santos has agreed to start peace negotiations with FARC guerrillas, with their first meeting scheduled for 8 October in Oslo, Norway. The smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels have been left out of the peace process and are currently demanding to be included. Their inclusion would be likely to complicate the negotiations and we do not expect the government to invite them.
The ELN are likely to increase their attacks against commercial assets to show the government that it is still a force to be reckoned with and that they deserve a place in negotiations. Such attacks are likely to remain confined to the ELN strongholds of Arauca, Norte de Santander, Nariño and Chocó provinces.
The ELN are now estimated to number around 2,500 fighters compared to the FARC's 9,000. They have carried out over 150 attacks so far this year, most of them targeted on the oil industry. The $4 billion Bicentennial pipeline project is a prime target. In February 2012, ELN kidnapped 11 Bicentennial pipeline contractors in Tame, Arauca. In June, the rebel group fired on two buses transporting 120 pipeline contractors. A month later, they kidnapped two Colombian contractors working for Itansuca and Conco on the project in Fortúl, Arauca. In addition to oil facilities, ELN's other target sets include mining and telecom and electricity towers. In July 2012, they occupied the Concarivana gold mine in Montecristo, Bolivar, forcing workers to leave the site and then destroyed the mine's electricity plant with IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices].
Terrorism risks are unlikely to completely disappear, even if a peace agreement is eventually signed. ELN rebels primarily rely on kidnapping as their main source of income but are becoming increasingly involved in the drug trade. We expect some FARC cells to split from their top commanders and become criminal gangs if a peace deal is reached. Something similar is likely to happen with the ELN if President Santos decides to hold separate talks with them. Such criminal and drug trafficking gangs are still likely to engage in kidnapping and extortion and will remain a threat to firms operating in current rebel strongholds.
Carlos Caicedo is the Director of the Latin America Division of UK-based Exclusive Analysis Ltd, a specialist intelligence company that forecasts political and violent risks to multinational businesses worldwide.
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