MS Risk Blog

Colombia to Begin Peace Talks with ELN Rebels on 27 October

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The Colombian government and the second-largest rebel group announced earlier this month that they will begin formal peace talks on 27 October in what is likely to be a boost for President Juan Manuel Santos in the wake of the rejection of his deal with the larger FARC guerrilla group.

According to an agreement signed in Caracas by both sides under the auspices of Venezuela’s government, the negotiations with the 2,000-strong National Liberation Army (ELN) will begin in Ecuador. In a speech shortly after the announcement, President Santos disclosed that “we are a special nation that grows despite adversities,” adding, “peace wont slip through out fingers. On the contrary, it will be stronger, and now that we will advance with the ELN, it will be complete.”

At war for five decades, after being founded by radical Catholic priests and inspired by Cuba’s revolution, the ELN has been in on-an-off closed-door talks with the Colombian government since January 2014, with talks focusing on how the two sides would conduct peace negotiations and what would be on the table. The ELN has remained active during this time, kidnapping and bombing oil installations. However in recent months, it has released some captives and with the announcement of the agreement, the ELN has stated that it would begin to release two remaining hostages by 27 October. The ELN has sought peace before, holding talks in Cuba and Venezuela between 2002 and 2007.

Earlier this month, the Colombian leader won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end a 52-year-old war with the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The choice was a surprise given the fact that voters narrowly rejected a deal that he signed with them last month. While President Santos’ peace accord with the FARC was internationally lauded, it was narrowly rebuffed in a plebiscite as being too lenient on the rebels. Former President Alvaro Uribe is currently leading the effort to change the agreement, which would have given the FARC guaranteed congressional seats and immunity from traditional jail sentence. During the referendum, his side won by half a percentage point.

While peace with the two rebel groups is unlikely to put a complete end to the violence in Colombia, which has also been ravaged by unrest from drug trafficking and other crimes, it would allow economic development and would result in a shift of more military resources towards the fighting of growing criminal gangs.

President Santos, whose two-term rule ends in August 2018, has staked his reputation on inking peace agreements with both rebel groups. He is donating his Nobel prize, which is worth 8 million Swedish crowns (US $930,000) to Colombia’s conflict victims.

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