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Monday, October 19, 1998 Published at 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK

World: Americas

Rebels blamed for Colombia pipeline blast

The blast was in an area dominated by ELN rebels

Stephen Cviic: "Oil pouring in all directions"
The Colombian government is blaming one of the country's main rebel groups for a large explosion on an oil pipeline in which at least 45 people were killed.

The Colombian Defence Minister, Rodrigo Lloreda, said army experts had found evidence suggesting the attack was deliberate, and said it was most likely to have been caused by the National Liberation Army, or ELN.

At least 70 people were injured and many suffered severe burns in the explosion which happened in the middle of the night, setting fire to a nearby village. Many of the casualties were asleep at the time.

A BBC correspondent in South America says that if the explosion does turn out to have been an attack by the ELN, it will undermine formal peace talks between the rebels and the government which began earlier this month.

Local police say the explosion early on Sunday morning sent oil pouring out in all directions, some of it landing on nearby houses.

Emergency workers flew to the scene of the blast near the north-western town of Segovia, where the casualties were said to be peasants whose shanty homes were destroyed.

The area where the explosion occured is a stronghold of the ELN.

Peace talks planned

Last week the ELN agreed to a timetable for peace talks next year, but has not yet signed a ceasefire.

The 800km pipeline had been carrying about 350,000 barrels of oil each day from the Cusiana-Cupiagua oil field, operated by BP.

The Guardian reported on Saturday that the Colombian oil pipeline company Ocensa, in which BP has a 15% stake, bought and supplied military equipment to an Colombian army brigade which was guarding the pipeline.

BP has suspended Ocensa's chief security officer pending an enquiry, and the BP managing director has denied the company was involved in supplying arms.

Sunday's attack is believed to be the second since the pipeline came into operation last year. However, the Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline, the country's second largest has been attacked over 60 times this year.

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