Rebel attack kills 9 soldiers, Colombian army says

Bogota, May 22 (EFE).- The death toll from the attack staged by National Liberation Army, or ELN, guerrillas on soldiers in a rural area outside Chitaga, a city in Colombia's Norte de Santander province, has risen to nine, the army said Wednesday.

"The army's 2nd Division command regrets to report that the number of our soldiers murdered in a terrorist attack perpetrated by members of the ELN has risen to nine," the army said in a statement.

"The incident occurred at a place called Caguey, a lane outside Presidente, municipality of Chitaga, Norte de Santander, where Jose Antonio Galan Battalion troops, from the 5th Brigade, were undertaking military control operations in the area," the army said.

"The soldiers were attacked in an indiscriminate manner with homemade explosive devices that were thrown at the patrol and left six soldiers wounded who were transported to hospitals in the region, where they are receiving specialized medical care," the army said.

A search is being conducted for a soldier listed as missing and additional 2nd Division troops have been deployed to hunt down the rebels, the army said.

President Juan Manuel Santos announced in a Twitter posting earlier in the day that six soldiers had died in an attack staged by ELN guerrillas in Norte de Santander.

"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.

"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.

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.