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The Popular Liberation Army

The Popular Libeation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación-- EPL) was the only major group in Colombia espousing a Maoist political ideology; as such, it endorsed the concept of a prolonged popular war. Organized in early 1968, the EPL was headed by proChinese communists who formed the Communist Party of Colombia-- Marxist-Leninist (Partido Comunista de Colombia-Marxista-- Leninista--PCC-ML) upon breaking with the Soviet-line PCC in July 1965. The EPL served as the armed branch of the PCC-ML. Unlike the PCC, the PCC-ML did not enjoy legal status in 1988.

The EPL's first military operations were in the department of Córdoba, on the Caribbean coast, during the late 1960s. Internal dissension and the deaths of some of its key leaders during the 1970s weakened the EPL's operational capabilities. In 1979 continuing dissent within the EPL led to formation of the Pedro León Arboleda Movement, a splinter group named for an EPL leader slain in 1975. This group remained active as an independent organization in the 1980s.

Despite its Maoist orientation, the EPL chose to participate in the 1984 cease-fire, but it refused to sign a peace agreement. Following the reported killing in 1985 of its leader, Ernesto Rojas, the organization broke the cease-fire. In 1987 the EPL's size was estimated at approximately 350 guerrillas organized into four fronts. Its principal area of operations was in rural regions of the departments of Antioquia, Córdoba, and Risaralda. The organization also maintained urban support networks in major cities.

Data as of December 1988