Colombia ELN rebels demand Chilean timber company leaves country

Tue Nov 5, 2013 1:25pm EST
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BOGOTA Nov 5 (Reuters) - Colombia's ELN rebels are demanding that a Chilean timber company abandon its operations in the Andean nation, although the leftist group still plans to free one of the firm's local contractors held captive for 15 months.

Compania Agricola La Sierra "should leave the country, like the Canadian mining company Braeval Mining Company" the ELN said in a statement on its website. It also said it would release Andres Montes Ceballos, an Agricola La Sierra engineer it kidnapped in July 2012.

A Braeval contractor held by the ELN for seven months was freed in August, meeting one of the demands by President Juan Manuel Santos made to enable the start of peace talks with the insurgent group.

Braeval said in July it would suspend operations in Colombia, however, it did not tie its decision to the kidnapping.

The ELN, the smaller of two guerrilla groups fighting the government for the last 50 years, regularly attacks energy infrastructure in the country's northeast.

"The Chilean multinational should recognize the negative impact of its investment," the statement said, "policies which guarantee profits for foreigners to the detriment of our national sovereignty."

Agricola La Sierra declined to comment on the ELN demand.

On Monday, the ELN released three Colombian oil workers held for 55 days in the northeastern border province of Arauca.

The ELN has battled a dozen governments since it was founded in 1964 and is considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.

Inspired by the Cuban revolution and established by radical Catholic priests, the ELN is now believed to have about 3,000 fighters. It has sought peace before, holding talks with the Colombian government in Cuba and Venezuela between 2002 and 2007. Experts say there was a lack of will on both sides to agree a final peace plan.