Colombia: How are the peace talks going with the ELN?

The National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish) is an illegal armed group that has had actions in Colombian territory since the 1960s. It is considered the second guerrilla group, after the FARC-EP, with the most power in the Colombian territory.

During different presidential periods, ELN has shown interest in negotiating peace, without much success. However, in 2012 the ELN showed a major interest in starting negotiations with the national government, headed by Juan Manuel Santos.

Negotiation’s start

In September 2012, the ELN expressed its willingness in initiating negotiations with the national government. The interest was produced under the framework of the Havana peace talks with the FARC-EP, which were already advancing at the time.

However, it was not until 2014 that President Juan Manuel Santos accepted to start the negotiations and President Rafael Correa offered his country to be the epicenter of the negotiations.

Nevertheless, it was until February 2017 that negotiations began in Quito with a team led by Juan Camilo Restrepo. Later, on September 2017, it was announced the bilateral ceasefire was announced temporarily.

New negotiation team  

In this period, there have been violations to the ceasefire, which has generated skepticism about the veracity of the agreement and the validity of the advances announced by the government.

Additionally, after completing the fourth cycle of negotiations, Juan Camilo Restrepo resigned in December 2017 for personal and professional reasons. As a result, in January 9, president Juan Manuel Santos announced the renewal of the team with the following new members: Gustavo Bell (leader), Angelika Rettberg, Socorro Ramirez, Carlos Rojas Tirado and Alejandro Reyes. The members that still remain are: Fredy Padilla León, Alberto Fergusón, José Noé Rios, Luz Helena Sarmiento, Juan Mayr and Jaime Avendaño.

President Santos affirmed that "the team will be renewed and the process with the ELN will continue, to see if we can resume the ceasefire and continue with the negotiation of the agenda that we have already established". Moreover, Juan Camilo Restrepo said that " it is expected that the renewal of the Government Team will arrive with new impulses and dynamics that allow the advance of the agenda agreed on March 30, 2016".

Undoubtedly, this change has caused doubts to arise regarding the credibility of the initial negotiating team and speculations regarding the positive or negative that this may be for the current process.

New terrorist attacks

Regrettably, this January 10, once the bilateral ceasefire ended, the ELN carried out two terrorist attacks. The first one took place on the municipality of Arauquita (Arauca), where a fragmentation grenade was activated in a security post of the navy and two people were injured. The second attack was perpetrated in the municipality of Agua Azul (Casanare), where it was attempted against the infrastructure of the Cupiagua well.

According to El Heraldo, the President of the Republic, Juan Manuel Santos, ordered that the head of the government negotiating team with the ELN, Gustavo Bell, "immediately return to the country to review the progress of the negotiations." The team will return to the country due to the attacks that are attributed to this guerrilla.

Santos also added that "first of all the National Government deplores the decision of the ELN to resume its terrorist attacks against the civilian population, the armed forces and infrastructure." The mandatary added that "in this situation I have talked with the head of the government delegation in Quito to return immediately to evaluate the future of the process. I reiterated this morning to our Armed Forces the order to act forcefully to respond to this aggression and protect the life and honor of the Colombians, as is their constitutional duty. "

According to RCN Radio, General (r) Oscar Naranjo expressed the need to establish new mechanisms to consolidate the peace search with the ELN. In addition, Naranjo informed the UN Security Council that the government, headed by Santos, called for consultations with the peace negotiators in Quito.
The situation leaves as uncertain the negotiation with this armed group, and it demonstrates the challenges that the new negotiating team has to advance with real agreements with the ELN.

LatinAmerican Post | Tatiana Restrepo

Copy edited by Marcela Peñaloza


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