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National Liberation Army (Colombia)
Ejército de Liberación Nacional (usually abbreviated to ELN), or National Liberation Army, is a revolutionary, Marxist, insurgent guerrilla group that has been operating in several regions of Colombia since 1964. Less known than the FARC, it is estimated to be smaller, having between 3,500 to 5,000 men in arms.
The US State Department considers ELN to be a Foreign Terrorist Organization due to its notorious reputation for ransom kidnappings and armed attacks on Colombia's infrastructure. In April 2004, the European Union added the ELN to its list of terrorist organizations for those actions and its breaches of humanitarian law.
The ELN has also occasionally operated with the FARC-EP and it has also targetted civilians, according to a February 2005 report by the United Nation's High Commissioner for Human Rights: "During 2004, the FARC-EP and the ELN carried out a series of attacks against the civilian population, including several massacres of civilians and kidnappings by the FARC-EP. There were occasional joint actions by the FARC-EP and the ELN." 
The outspoken Father Camilo Torres (a well-known university professor of egalitarian and eventually Marxist leanings who was highly critical of Colombia's historically unfair income distribution, named after a revolutionary figure in Colombia's late colonial history), was attracted to the radical new ideas of liberation theology and joined the group with the intent of putting them into practice inside a revolutionary environment. Torres himself died shortly after joining the ELN during his first combat, but he remained as an important symbol both for the group as a whole and to other like-minded priests who gradually followed his example, most from relatively low positions in the Catholic Church's structure.
After suffering both internal crisis and military defeat in the early 1970s, it was Father Manuel Pérez alias "El Cura Pérez" ("Pérez the Priest") from Spain, who eventually assumed joint-leadership of the group along with current leader Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista , alias "Gabino", and presided over the ELN as one of its most recognized figures from the late 1970s until he died of hepatitis in 1998.
It has been considered that Manuel Pérez had a large role in giving ultimate shape to the ELN's ideology, which has traditionally been considered as a mixture of Cuban revolutionary theory with extreme liberation theology, calling for a Christian and Communist solution to Colombia's problems of corruption, poverty and political exclusion, through the use of guerrilla activity, conventional warfare and also what has been termed as terrorist action. Observers have commented that, since the death of Manuel Pérez, the movement may arguably have begun to slowly lose focus regarding many of its earlier concerns, such as the necessary unity of revolutionary activity with Christian and social action, in order to win over the population to their cause. The ELN is considered a foreign terrorist organization by the USA and the European Union.
The ELN guerrillas were seriously crippled by the Anorí operation carried out by the Colombian military from 1973 to 1974, but managed to reconstitute themselves and escape destruction, in part due to the government of Alfonso López Michelsen allowing them to escape encirclement, hoping to initiate a peace process with the group. The ELN survived and managed to sustain itself through the extortion of private and foreign oil companies , including several of German origin, large-scale kidnapping and, to a lesser degree, with indirect profits from the drug trade.
The ELN did not participate in the peace process that the administration of Andrés Pastrana Arango attempted during 1998 to 2002 with the FARC, though it did engage in exploratory talks, kept contacts and discussed the possibility of eventually joining a peace initiative.
Those contacts continued during the early days of the Álvaro Uribe Vélez government but eventually were severed, neither party being fully trusting of the other. Only recently, in mid-2004, have the ELN and the government began to make a small series of moves that, with the announced mediation of the Vicente Fox government of Mexico, may potentially lead to another round of at least exploratory talks. On July 24, 2004 the ELN apparently adbucted Misael Vacca Ramírez , the Catholic Bishop of Yopal, though their reasons were not clarified. The kidnappers said that Ramírez would be released with a message, but Francisco Galán , a senior jailed ELN commander who has often acted as an intermediary between the government and the ELN's high command, said he did not know whether the group was responsible. The Bishop was subsequently released by ELN members, in good health, on July 27th, after his kidnapping had been condemned by Amnesty International and Pope John Paul II, among others. It is not yet known if he has any message to announce or any other specifics about his situation.
Some sectors within the ELN have apparently been hit hard both by the AUC right wing paramilitaries and, more recently, the different military offensives initiated under the Uribe administration, which has been the basis for reductions in estimates of its currently available manpower.
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