The Colombian government is investigating after car bomb explosions at a military base near the country’s border with Venezuela injured 36 people.
Two explosions took place on Tuesday at a base used by the 30th Army Brigade in the northeastern city of Cucuta, the defence ministry said, after two men drove a white Toyota truck onto the site after passing themselves off as officials.
“We reject and repudiate this vile and terrorist act which sought to attack the soldiers of Colombia,” said Defence Minister Diego Molano, adding that three people suffered serious injuries.
One of the wounded has had surgery, Molano told reporters, and 29 are hospitalised.
Officials blamed the attack on members of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s last recognised armed group, but Molano said Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents may also have been involved.
FARC dissidents rejected a 2016 peace deal that ended the group’s part in the armed conflict in Colombia, which has left 260,000 dead and millions displaced. Colombian government officials and the army have said some 2,500 to 3,000 FARC dissidents remain throughout the country.
Al Jazeera’s Alessandro Rampietti, reporting from the capital Bogota, said both Molano and President Ivan Duque flew to the area after the attack, which he described as one of the biggest incidents since 2019.
“We are indeed seeing an escalation,” said Rampietti, explaining that armed groups have been fighting for the control of illicit crops such as coca, as well as smuggling routes, in the region, fuelling a recent increase in violence.
“There are also other drug mafias that operate in this region. Besides coca there, there’s also gold mining in that area, [and] very important smuggling routes of people, money, drugs and weapons between Colombia and Venezuela,” he said.
The United States embassy in Bogota said late on Tuesday that a small number of US military personnel were on the base for training with a Colombian unit when the explosions occurred, but that no serious injuries were reported among US forces.
Duque, the Colombian president, told reporters that his government would offer a $135,000 reward to find those responsible for the blasts in Cucuta. A special investigative group had also been set up to look into what happened, he said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a report in March that Colombia had seen a resurgence of violence in 2020, as at least five conflicts with armed groups were ongoing.
The group said 389 people – mostly civilians – were killed by explosive devices last year, the highest number since 2016.
That same month, the Colombian government accused FARC dissidents of setting off a car bomb in the town of Corinto, about 60km (37 miles) south of Cali in western Colombia. That incident injured more than two dozen people, including some public officials.
More than 27,000 people were displaced across Colombia in the first quarter of 2021, the country’s human rights ombudsman said in April, a jump of 177 percent compared with the same period a year earlier.
The ombudsman said people were forced from their homes amid threats, murders, forced recruitment by armed gangs and clashes between armed groups.