Colombia, ELN rebels renew peace talks

Colombia, ELN rebels renew peace talks

Colombia’s Vice President Francia Marquez and Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard

ELN official says two sides took ‘first steps’ towards a temporary ceasefire as negotiations in Mexico City conclude.

Colombia’s government and the left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group have hailed progress in their efforts to end decades of armed conflict in the South American nation, as a second round of peace talks concluded in Mexico City.

The negotiations come as part of an effort by President Gustavo Petro – the country’s first left-wing leader and former M-19 rebel – to reach peace or surrender deals with armed groups and bring “total peace” to Colombia.

The ELN, founded by Catholic priests in 1964, is the country’s largest remaining rebel organisation.

“We took the first steps to firm up a bilateral, national and temporary ceasefire which will create better conditions for Colombians’ mobilisation and participation in the peace process,” the ELN’s Pablo Beltran said on Friday.

Otty Patino, the head of the Colombian government’s delegation, said creating a ceasefire will be a top challenge for the next cycle of talks set to take place in Cuba, as will developing a “pilot plan” for peace and expanding participation in the negotiations.

The first round of peace talks, held in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas late last year, resulted in diverging narratives. Colombia’s government announced a truce had been reached while the ELN denied it had accepted any such agreement, saying a ceasefire “was merely a proposal to be considered”.

In 2019, conservative former President Ivan Duque called off peace talks with the ELN after a car bomb attack on a police academy in Bogota that killed 22 people.

ELN leaders have said fighters are on board with the current talks.

Norway and Mexico, which have served as facilitators in the negotiations, hailed their progress.