BOGOTA, Colombia — A leftist rebel group acknowledged Saturday that its fighters killed two Catholic priests last week, but said the killings were a mistake and promised to punish those responsible.
The two priests, Vicente Rosso Bayona and Jesus Emilio Mora, were killed Monday along with two construction workers when gunmen ambushed their car on a remote country road in northeast Colombia.
"We are aware of the irreparable damage that this act has caused," the National Liberation Army, known by its Spanish acronym ELN, said in a statement. "We regret it deeply and ask for forgiveness."
Guerrilla fighters were conducting operations against their far-right paramilitary rivals near Teorama, 260 miles northeast of Bogota, when the shooting took place, the group said.
In the statement, the ELN's Central Command blamed the killings on an "operational error" and said those responsible would be "tried with full rigor."
But a church leader, Msgr. Hector Fabio Henao, said the rebel apology was insufficient.
"I think the ELN should pay for their mistake not just by asking for forgiveness, but by opening a peace dialogue," Henao, who mediated in peace efforts during Colombia's 41-year-old civil war, said in an interview.