Peace talks between Colombia and the ELN have resumed in a burst of ‘optimism’

During the resumption of peace talks in Caracas on Monday, representatives of the Colombian government and the ELN, the last guerrilla group still active in the country, showed themselves to be “optimistic”, promising to “build peace from a democracy just”. “Peace is our dream, change our path,” according to the statement read Monday after the first contact in the morning.

The negotiations should last “three weeks” in the capital of Venezuela, one of the three countries guarantors of the process (along with Cuba and Norway). They bring together around thirty people, including the delegates of the first left-wing president elected in August in Colombia, Gustavo Petro, and those of the ELN.

To read: Venezuela agrees to be the guarantor of a future dialogue between Colombia and the ELN guerrillas

Initiated in 2017 in Cuba, the dialogue was interrupted by conservative President Ivan Duque (2018-2022) after a car bomb attack in June 2019 against a police school (22 dead).

“A historic moment”

This desire to “build peace” is demanded by “the inhabitants who suffer from violence and exclusion”, according to the text which underlines the “necessity” of “permanent and verifiable commitments which sow the seeds of a new culture of peace (…) going beyond political violence and its causes”. “We look with hope to the process that is taking shape today. This is undoubtedly an important step towards achieving peace in Colombia”, welcomed the guarantor nations.

Read also: “We don’t want any more war”: in Colombia, an investiture as a promise

Colombian Peace Commissioner Danilo Rueda, appointed by Petro, said Colombia was “at a historic, almost unique moment”. “The first meeting (…) gives us the certainty and deep conviction that we will achieve the goal that unites us: to be daughters and sons of the same homeland with changes and transformations (..) that will lead us to overcome the dynamics of death (…) to build a nation where we all have our place.”

The head of the ELN delegation Pablo Beltran was also optimistic, stressing that the fact that Colombia is led by a “left-wing government” was the “main difference” with the failures of previous negotiations. He also brushed aside the doubts expressed by many observers who point to divisions within the rebellion: “The ELN does not sign what it cannot respect and what it signs, it respects.”

For his part, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, special representative in Colombia of the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, called on “the parties and Colombian society to take advantage of this historic opportunity”. “I reiterate General Secretary @antonioguterres’ support for this process,” he wrote on Twitter.

Operations against the guerrillas continue

Founded in 1964 by trade unionists and students who sympathized with Ernesto “Che” Guevara and the Cuban revolution, the ELN remains to this day the last constituted guerrilla group still active in Colombia, while the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia ( FARC) signed a peace accord in 2016.

After the talks were suspended, the ELN’s membership rose from 1,800 to 2,500 members, according to official estimates. The organization has a federated structure with spokespersons on each front, which experts say makes negotiations difficult.

The government and the ELN did not agree on a ceasefire, but agreed in October to “resume all agreements and progress made since the signing of the agenda” of March 30, 2016. These In recent weeks, they have given “pledges of confidence” to each other, notably with the release of prisoners or the reduction of operations in the field.

Also read: In Colombia, fighting between FARC dissidents and another armed group leaves at least 18 dead

However, Colombian Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez warned in Bogotá that the resumption of negotiations does not imply an “order to suspend operations” against this guerrilla. If the army comes across “someone who has an arrest warrant, then he must be captured (…). There is no ceasefire”.

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