MS Risk Blog

Colombia and ELN Begin Peace Negotiations

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Last week, members of Colombia’s ELN left-wing rebel group and government negotiators began talks seeking to end more than five decades of conflict.

The negotiations were launched at a ceremony in the capital of Ecuador, Quito, where the talks will be held. Ecuador is hosting the first round of negotiations, with Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Norway and Venezuela acting as guarantors.   The chief ELN negotiator, Pablo Beltran, has urged both sides to rally around the points that united them and to leave aside their differences.   He further called on the rebels to officially suspend its kidnapping policy during the negotiations. The ELN relies on the ransom obtained from kidnappings to finance its activities. Mr Beltran disclosed that peace would not be achieved through more repression, adding “we need a political solution. We are willing to take responsibility for the mistakes we have made but we expect the other side to do the same.

The top government representative, Juan Camilo Restrepo, meanwhile disclosed that he expected to draw from the lessons of the negotiations with the FARC in order to reach a peace accord with the ELN. Both officials however agreed that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the country to achieve peace.

The ELN, or National Liberation Army, is Colombia’s second largest rebel group.   It was founded in 1964 with the stated aim of fighting Colombia’s unequal distribution of land and riches, which was inspired by the Cuban revolution of 1959.   The talks were initially due to begin at the end of October last year however they were delayed as the Colombian government refused to sit down for formal negotiations while the rebels still held Odin Sanchez, a former congressman. Mr Sanchez was released on 2 February 2017 while on 6 February, the group released a solider it had been holding hostage for two weeks. The soldier, Freddy Moreno, was handed over to delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Arauca province.

The talks come just months after the Colombian government signed a peace agreement with Colombia’s largest rebel group, the FARC. In November 2016, the Colombian government signed a revised peace agreement with the country’s largest group, the FARC, after four years of negotiations in the Cuban capital, Havana. Members of the FARC have ben gathering in “transition zones,” where they are to demobilise and lay down their weapons under the supervision of United Nations monitors. According to government officials, the last of the FARC rebels are expected to reach the designated debilitation areas by 15 February.

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