Colombian President Ivan Duque announced on Sunday, in an impromptu press conference with military and police leaders, that the country’s security forces killed Andres Felipe Vanegas London, one of the top commanders of the National Liberation Army (ELN).
The operation took place in the jungle commune of Novita, in the province of Choco located along the northwest Pacific coast.
President Duque, who was dressed casually in jeans and delivered the conference from Choco, said that, “This criminal was killed in a meticulous operation of shared intelligence by the national army of Colombia and the national police.”
London had been responsible for kidnappings, murders of human rights activists, killings of security forces’ members, and forced recruitment of minors. The terrorist leader, who went by the nom de guerre “Uriel,” was widely known for his media appearances, online videos, and one-time Twitter account.
He was believed to be behind last year’s car bombing at the General Santander National Police Academy in Bogotá. In the attack, 21 cadets and the perpetrator died and 68 others were wounded. The ELN had acknowledged responsibility for the bombing. It attempted to justify it as a response to the bombings made by the Colombian government during the unilateral ceasefire between it and the ELN. In response, President Duque called off peace negotiations with ELN, which had started by his predecessor President Santos, and demanded that Cuba return all 10 ELN who had taken refuge there.
The government recently announced the capture of eight rebels accused of taking part in the 2019 police cadet car bombing attack.
In the press conference, Duque added that London and the ELN twisted social media to “defend their crimes.” He called on the remaining ELN members to demobilize.
“This is a particularly important blow [to the ELN] because one of the most visible figures of this terrorist organization has fallen,” Duque noted.
The National Liberation Army of Colombia (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) was founded in 1964 by Fabio Vásquez Castaño and other Colombian rebels who had trained in Cuba. It espouses a mixture of Marxist-Leninist ideology and liberation theology, the latter added when a group of Roman Catholic priests became ELN’s leaders.
The ELN is classified as a terrorist organization by Colombia, Peru, the United States, and the EU because of its admitted ransom kidnappings, armed attacks on Colombia’s infrastructure, and its breaches of humanitarian law.
Government officials released a photo of London who always appeared on social media masked.
El Chocó is the focal point of a territorial dispute between the ELN and the Clan del Golfo, the largest drug-trafficking gang in Colombia. Clan del Golfo arose from far-right paramilitaries who were demobilized in 2006. The area is of strategic importance because much of the cocaine en route to Central America and the United States leaves from there. Yet, according to the National Prosecutor’s office, profits from illegal gold mining in the province now exceeds cocaine trafficking.
After the government and the FARC signed a peace agreement whereby the former terrorist group agreed to lay down its arms, the ELN became the last major terrorist group operating in the country. It is active in about 10-12 percent of urban municipalities and has around 2,000-3,000 members.