Colombian rebels attack energy systems

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BOGOTA, Colombia — The port town of Tumaco on Colombia’s Pacific coast went dark for more than a week in early August after guerrillas toppled three electricity towers in the remote area.

Rebel-planted land mines did even more damage, delaying the restoration of power while killing at least five people, including two workers trying to repair the towers, local authorities said.

Such attacks on electricity infrastructure, gas pipelines and trains transporting coal occurred almost daily in the 1990s and into the 2000s, as Colombia’s rebel groups targeted the energy industry either to extort funds or attack foreign companies they accused of exploiting the nation’s riches.

The attacks by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the largest rebel force in the country, and the smaller National Liberation Front, or ELN, eventually fell off.

Now rebel sabotage is on the upswing again — a sign to some that the guerrillas have grown desperate as their armed strength has waned.

The attacks also have occurred as Colombia tries to build its economic future around increased oil production.

“The terrorists are still keeping it up to remain visible, undertaking certain limited, isolated actions that attempt to demonstrate a force that the country understands they do not have,” Defense Minister Jose Carlos Pinzon said of the most recent attacks.

President rejects cease-fire

Meanwhile, as FARC representatives prepare for peace talks with Colombian authorities next month in Oslo, they have proposed a cease-fire that could end the attacks on energy targets.

President Juan Manuel Santos, however, has ruled out such a cease-fire, saying he has asked the military to instead step up their actions.

“We’re not going to give up until we have a final accord, and that’s clear,” Mr. Santos said.

The energy and mining sector represents about 70 percent of the country’s exports, with petroleum sales alone totaling at least $32 billion annually.

The sector generates 12 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, money that is key for development projects ranging from the construction of highways and bridges to low-income housing.

No estimates exist on how much damage the sabotage causes annually; but if a peace agreement is signed, Colombia’s gross domestic product could grow an additional 1 or 2 percentage points and help the country reach annual economic growth of 5 percent to 6 percent, according to Treasury Minister Mauricio Cardenas, a former minister of energy and mining.

Mr. Cardenas downplayed the impact of the attacks but still acknowledged the sabotage has had a cost, preventing the production of at least 15,000 barrels of crude daily.

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