Sun Sep 3, 2017 06:32AM
“Yerson,” a commander of Colombia’s rebel National Liberation Army (ELN), in the northwestern jungles of the country, August 30, 2017 (photo by Reuters)
“Yerson,” a commander of Colombia’s rebel National Liberation Army (ELN), in the northwestern jungles of the country, August 30, 2017 (photo by Reuters)

Rebels with Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) have admitted to killing a Russian hostage after six months in captivity, a move that could endanger peace talks with the government in Bogota.

The rebels said on Saturday that Arsen Voskanyan, a Russian-Armenian citizen, had been shot dead while attempting to flee back in April, Reuters reported.

The ELN group had abducted Voskanyan last November, claiming that he was collecting poisonous frogs in the jungles of the western Colombian state of Choco in order to smuggle them overseas.

The rebels said Voskanyan was killed six month after being taken hostage and shortly before being handed over to Red Cross delegates and freed. He was fatally shot when he suddenly grabbed a grenade from one of the group members and tried to run away.

“The grenade exploded... several of our boys were wounded, the entire unit of five boys. He fled, he was shot and killed... The issue of his body will be negotiated,” an ELN commander with the nom-de-guerre Yerson said.

He provided no evidence to back up his assertions.                                                      

The Colombian government has yet to confirm the information on Voskanyan’s death.

A handout picture released by the Colombian army’s press office shows soldiers escorting eight people who had been kidnapped by the ELN guerrillas, on arrival in Quibdo, the department of Choco, Colombia, on May 9, 2017. (Via AFP)

The rebel group, which has kidnapped hundreds of Colombians and foreigners for economic and political gain, had previously said in a statement that the Russian-Armenian hostage had escaped injured after a struggle that had left several fighters wounded.

The practice of kidnapping civilians by the ELN is a key issue in the peace talks taking place in the Ecuadorean capital of Quito.

The Saturday announcement by the rebel group and its failure to inform the government may complicate the negotiations, which started in February in a bid to end decades of conflict.

The ELN is the country’s second largest rebel group with 1,500 fighters. It began its peace talks with the government in February after the biggest rebel group in the country, the FARC, made peace with the government and laid down its arms.