Colombia President said his administration won’t take part in talks with the organization in Cuba until his own set of preconditions are met
The National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia declared a 12-day Christmas truce Monday that will begin Sunday, Dec. 23. They also requested that President Ivan Duque resume peace talks in Cuba.
The Marxist organization’s Central Command (COCE) released a statement late Sunday night saying that the “National Liberation Army will cease offensive operations from December 23, 2018, to January 3, 2019, to provide a climate of tranquility at Christmas and the New Year.” COCE tweeted parts of the letter on its official Twitter account.
Since taking office on Aug. 7 President Duque said his administration won’t take part in talks with the organization in Cuba until his own set of preconditions are met; namely, “the total cessation of criminal activities and the handing over of all hostages.” Not until that time, says Duque, and the director of Colombia’s High Commission for Peace, Miguel Ceballos, will the president send a chief negotiator to Havana.
Former President Manuel Santos, who signed a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) in 2016, had engaged in peace talks with the ELN for the last 17 months of his last term, first in Ecuador and later in Cuba.
ELN officials requested a mutual ceasefire several times in October, which Duque denied and instead ordered the military capture of longtime ELN leader, Didier Calvache Jimenez, alias Conejo (Rabbit) in rural Cauca department and decreed an Interpol arrest of the ELN chief peace negotiator Nicolas Rodriguez, or Gambino, on Nov 20. The military has also taken ELN minors into custody, which the organization, formed in 1964, has denounced.
In its latest letter, the Marxist movement says the government is “escalating” tensions rather than trying to reach peace.
“President Duque, by abandoning the road … toward dialogue and peace, aggravates the crisis in Colombia, which may destroy what is left of the FARC (peace) accords and (he) is denying any political solution with the ELN,” read Sunday’s communique.
“It is very serious and contradictory that in the context of a peace process that the regime increases persecution and genocide of social leaders and human rights defenders (in Colombia), while increasing its threats of war against Venezuela,” wrote ELN leaders.
The armed group says it “remains committed to a political solution to the conflict and continued peace process … with the participation of (Colombian) society and the international community for a humanitarian agreement and a new bilateral ceasefire … that puts an end to the armed conflict and establishes a true democracy in Colombia,” reads the document.
In the latest ELN message, the organization assures that it wants to continue the peace negotiations begun in February 2017 and wants Colombian President Ivan Duque to “send his delegates to Cuba.”
Last year at this time the government and the ELN agreed to a 101-day bilateral ceasefire in force between Oct. 1, 2017, and Jan. 9, 2018 in order to create more favorable conditions towards peace.
Talks between the two parties began again in February 2017 in Quito, Ecuador, however, the Cuban government agreed to host the talks after Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno kicked out negotiators allegedly due to security problems at the shared Ecuador-Colombia border.
The 1,500-strong ELN was founded in 1964 and is believed to be the only remaining leftist rebel group in Colombia after FARC disarmed in 2016.
The 6th cycle of dialogues was suspended since Aug. 1 when the Santos government left office.