ELN rebels kill 6 soldiers in fighting in Colombia

Bogota, May 22 (EFE).- Six soldiers were killed in an attack staged by National Liberation Army, or ELN, guerrillas in a rural area outside Chitaga, a city in Colombia's Norte de Santander province, President Juan Manuel Santos said Wednesday.

"We are saddened by the deaths of these six heroes from our army in the ELN attack in Norte de Santander. Our hearts are with their families," Santos said in a Twitter posting.

"What we have officially is what President Santos confirmed, and additionally that the ELN attacked the Galan Battalion with explosives in a rural area outside the city of Chitaga, in Norte de Santander," the army press office told Efe.

"It was a cruel attack on the soldiers, who were divided into two groups, an ambush of Galan Battalion troops in the early morning hours, while they were resting," Chitaga Mayor Dikson Efrey Villamizar told Caracol radio.

"There are eight soldiers wounded and seven dead, as well as three missing," the mayor said, citing preliminary reports.

The ELN, which was founded in 1964 and has some 5,000 fighters, has been engaged in an "exploratory phase" of peace talks with the government since December 2005.