Colombia's army rescued eight child soldiers recruited by the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group during an operation in the northern town of Montecristo, the country's defence ministry said.

The army also captured 12 ELN fighters during the operation and seized a cache of weapons and field communication equipment from them.

Condemning the use of minors by the guerrilla group in its war against the government, the ministry said the rescued minors have been placed under state protection. The ELN "continued to infringe international human rights with the continued forced recruitment of underage recruits", the ministry added.

ELN is running its guerrilla movement against the government for over five decades, despite government efforts to broker a peace agreement. Two months ago in October, proposed peace talks broke down after the rebel group failed to release a hostage.

The government recently succeeded in signing a peace deal with another rebel group – The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or Farc. The first peace treaty signed between the Farc rebels and President Juan Manuel Santos-led government was rejected by the people of the country in a 2 October referendum. However, the revised treaty was signed on 24 November and was ratified by the Colombian Congress a week later.

On Saturday (31 December, 2016), the ELN released a businessman, Octavio Figueroa, who was being held by the group since March. The hostage was released close to the Venezuelan border after payment of an undisclosed ransom, the BBC reported.

Child soldier Syria
The Colombian army rescued eight child soldiers recruited by the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group and captured 12 fighters during a recent operation in the norther town of Montecristo - File photo Getty