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Tuesday, October 20, 1998 Published at 08:45 GMT 09:45 UK

World: Americas

Colombia rebels admit October blast

Many of the casualties were sleeping

One of Colombia's main rebel groups, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has said it blew up part of an oil pipeline on Sunday, which resulted in the deaths of 48 people.

At least 70 others were injured in the blast, which happened in the early morning, setting fire to a nearby village.

[ image: More than 100 people were killed or injured]
More than 100 people were killed or injured
One of the top rebel commanders, Nicolas Rodriguez, read a statement broadcast on Colombian radio, explaining the ELN's involvement.

But he did not claim responsibility for the fire that killed the villagers. He said that started an hour later, and was possibly set off by soldiers from the Colombian army.

"We assume the responsibility for the blowing up of the pipeline, but our conscience is clear because the criminals are not within our ranks," he said.

There was no immediate response from President Andres Pastrana to the announcement.

The Colombian Government had already blamed the rebel group, which has carried out more than 60 pipeline attacks this year. The ELN says it is protesting against excessive government concessions to foreign oil interests.

Peace talks in jeopardy

Correspondents say the attack could undermine formal peace talks between the rebels and the government, which began earlier this month.

Negotiations with the country's other leading rebel faction, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, are due to begin 7 November.

Separate, preliminary talks with the ELN - which has not yet signed a cease-fire - are scheduled for February.

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