BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A pipeline explosion splashed oil on a rural Colombian hamlet Sunday and fire raced through the village, killing at least 45 people and injuring more than 60. Authorities suspected leftist rebels were responsible for the blast.
The 2:45 a.m. explosion destroyed most of the wooden, straw-roof huts in the town of about 150 residents, most of them gold miners. The injured were airlifted to at least six area hospitals, many with third-degree burns.
President Andres Pastrana, in Portugal for a summit of leaders from Latin America, Spain and Portugal, called the incident “a bloody attack” and sent condolences to the victims. He did not directly blame the rebels but asked them for “gestures of peace.”
The damaged Colombia Central pipeline, a periodic target of ELN sabotage, is operated by the state-owned Ecopetrol oil company. It transports 100,000 barrels of crude oil daily, most of it from the Cusiana oil field in east-central Colombia to the Covenas terminal on the Caribbean. The blast shut down the pipeline.
Leaders of the ELN, Colombia’s second-largest rebel band, have said they blow up oil pipelines because the government has sold out to foreign oil interests. Sunday’s deaths occurred exactly a week after ELN leaders held talks with government and civilian officials to establish parameters for peace talks that are to begin in February.