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Published On: Wed, Jan 4th, 2017

Colombian Government & ELN To Launch Official Peace Talks on January 10

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : One week before the scheduled, and very delayed launch of talks between the Colombian government and the leftist ELN, President Santos reiterated that the ELN has to release all “hostages”. The ELN, for its part, reiterated its demand that the public be involved in the peace talks. Official peace talks should have been launched in May 2016 and have repeatedly been delayed.

juan-manuel-santos_colombia_nov-2016Precisely one week before the scheduled launch of talks between the Colombian government and the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), President Juan Manuel Santos used his Twitter account to say that “Colombia never again wants to talk about kidnapping”. He added “we demand that the ELN release all people in their power”.

It is at this time unclear whether Santos implied that the release of all people held captive by the ELN would be a precondition for launching the talks next week. The ELN, for its part, reiterated that the public has to be involved in the peace talks, a point that has been stipulated in the accord about the talks that was signed by government and ELN negotiators in March 2016.

In March 2016 representatives of the Colombian administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional –ELN) issued a joint statement about the launch of the official phase of peace talks in the Venezuelan capital Caracas on Wednesday, March 30, 2016.

Colombian government and ELN delegates in Caracas, Venezuela, announce the launch of official peace talks.

Colombian government and ELN delegates in Caracas, Venezuela, announce the launch of official peace talks.

The parties then agreed that the peace talks would be held parallel to the already ongoing peace talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – Peoples’ Army (FARC-EP). The conflicting parties also agreed that the talks between the Colombian government and the ELN will be hosted by Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela. Norway will act as guarantor nation for the talks, a role that it also holds with regard to the talks between the government and the FARC-EP. The talks will be monitored by the Catholic church and to begin in May 2016.

Principle Points on the Agenda.

The joint statement issued by the representatives of the government and the ELN largely addressed the same fundamental issues that also have been addressed in peace talks between the government and the FARC-EP. The statement acknowledges that peace is the ultimate good of any democracy and that the parties enter talks with the objective to put an end to armed conflict, to eradicate political violence, to put at the center the situation of the victims and move towards national reconciliation through active public participation. The latter refers to the ELN’s transition from an armed revolutionary organization to that of a political organization that participates in Colombian politics.

The government is running away from the accord it signed in March, stresses the ELN.

The government is running away from the accord it signed in March, stressed the ELN.

The statement stipulates that the delegations have agreed on several points to achieve this objective, namely, to launch official peace talks in Ecuador, to continue the talks in Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela with Norway as guarantor, to proceed with direct and continuous talks between the government and the ELN, to pursue the talks swiftly and with rigor, and to develop points noted in the agenda for the peace talks.

The government and ELN delegates agreed that the debate shall examine the participation of civil society in problems that directly affect their reality and lives so that aspirations can be channeled towards constructive political participation. Peaceful means for settling conflicts are perceived as a step towards achieving peace. Among others, there shall be a revision of the regulatory framework and guarantees for the right to hold public demonstrations.

Another point on the agenda is a review of the legal situation of those who have been accused or convicted of participation in social mobilization. Importantly, the delegates agreed on the review of public political participation as a fundamental element of citizenship.

The latter must be viewed in the light of the police and military, but possibly more importantly by paramilitary death squads that have oppressed social political movements for decades. These ultra-right-wing death squads have been linked to the Colombian government, and among others, to former President Alvaro Uribe.

A Transformation towards Peace.

The delegates of the government and the ELN agreed that a transformation towards peace requires that proposals for the transformation of society can be made by its constituents. The importance of this point has been underpinned with the motto “Democracy for Peace”.

The parties also agreed that there shall be implemented transformative programs aimed at overcoming poverty, social exclusion, corruption and environmental degradation. These points are perceived as necessary factors in the strive for equality. The delegates also agreed on the need to review alternative plans with territorial or regional focus so that communities can benefit from a local or regional activities.

Considering the Victims.

The parties agreed that it is essential for a lasting peace to acknowledge the victims of the conflict and their rights. The situation of all victims shall be considered on the basis of a search for truth and justice, on reparations, and commitments to the non-repetition of acts that have victimized them and on remembrance. The delegates agreed that the deliberation about the issue of victims shall be based on forgiveness as part of the reconciliation process as well as on the treatment of and the resolution to their situation based on truth, justice, reparation, commitments of non-repetition and remembrance. These joint elements support forgiveness and a reconciliation process. The latter may be solved via the transitional justice system that has been implemented since the signing of the peace accord between the State and the FARC-EP.

Ending the Armed Conflict and Implementing a Peace Agreement.

ELN fighters_Colombia_(archives)The delegates agreed that an end to violence and armed hostilities requires politics that facilitate the ELN’s transition to legal politics. Such politics need to consider the definition of and the future legal status of the ELN and its members. The delegates also agreed on the need to guarantee the safety of the ELN and its members as well as guarantees for the right to exercise political rights. The parties agree that tackling the phenomena of paramilitaries is necessary to prevent a recurrence of conflict. The delegates also agreed that such politics need to tackle the detention of those ELN members who have been charged and convicted.

The delegates agreed on the need for humanitarian action and the implementation of a bilateral ceasefire prior to the final cessation of hostilities. The parties agreed that the establishment of such circumstances as generated by the peace process would lead to the decommissioning of arms through procedural and institutional adjustments that have to be agreed upon in a general plan for the implementation of the peace. The plan for the implementation needs to include checks and balances, verification mechanisms, and the participation of the general public as well as the international community. The plan should consider the judicial, political, social, economic and diplomatic dimensions of the process.

The Public Phase and Involving the Public.

The delegates of the government and of the ELN agreed that society needs objective and balanced information about the peace talks as well as about the peace process. To achieve this goal, the parties agreed to facilitate participatory communication as well as on the issuing of joint declarations at the end of each cycle of talks.

Besides that, each party shall be allowed to issue declarations when it is deemed convenient. The parties also agreed on publishing joint statements on a website and on other measures that facilitate communication between the parties and the general public to facilitate an open, respectful and cooperative environment that is conducive of a culture of peace.

The Form and Financing of the Delegations and Peace Talks.

The government and the ELN agreed that each delegation will have 30 representatives. During the table’s sessions 10 members of each delegation will participate. Five of them will be primary and five will be supplementary. The conversations during the public phase will develop following the order of the established agenda and any change will have to be based on a mutual agreement. The agreement also stipulated that once the talks between the government and the ELN have reached this public phase, there will be implemented mechanisms to coordinate and synchronize the talks between the government and the ELN with those between the government and the FARC-EP in the Cuban capital Havana. The latter has become more or less obsolete because the FARC-EP and the State have already concluded their peace talks.

The parties agreed that the Colombian government will make resources available for the operation of the governments peace delegation. The costs for the ELN delegation, including costs for advisers and activities shall be financed through an international cooperation fund that shall be established with the purpose to finance the ELN’s peace delegation and its activities.

Talks Stalled Over Additional Demands.

colombia_odin-sanchez_eln_2016The release of “hostages” by the ELN or of “all people in their power” as President Santos expressed it, has never been part of the accord. It was added as an additional demand by the Santos administration after the accord was signed in March 2016. The ELN has released almost all persons held captive as a goodwill gesture while stressing the conditions under which the State holds ELN members in Colombia’s prison system.

In May the ELN  released two foreign journalists which the government designated as “hostages”  after what the ELN described as a brief detainment for  “background checks”. However, talks did not start as scheduled  and were further delayed in June due to the added demand that the ELN release all hostages before talks could begin. In July the conflicting parties launched unofficial backchannel talks to get the peace process back on track.

In August 2016 the ELN released a video with captive ex-Congressman Odin Sanchez who urged President Juan Manuel Santos to resume talks with the ELN. Odin commented on his captivity, saying that he was living in “fourth world like  conditions” which are inhumane and unbearable. However, Odin Sanchez also lashed out at the government, saying: “The government laid a trap for the people when it said it was ready to initiate conversations and then signaled that other conditions were required, like the liberation of those who are kidnapped, something that wasn’t fully agreed to”. The family of Odin Sanchez expressed relief over the video and urged President Santos to resume talks with the ELN as soon as possible.

Pablo Beltran announced launch of talks on October 27.

Pablo Beltran announced launch of talks on October 27.

In October Archbishop of Cali Monsenor Dario de Jesus Monsalve told the press that a new date for the launch official peace talks would soon be announced. One day later, and according to an nsnbc international source close to the ELN after the ELN released additional captives, it was announced that talks should be launched on October 27.

However, the Santos administration delayed the talks again insisting that the ELN release its last “hostage”, Odin Sanchez, before the government would hold any official talks.

The ELN, for its part, announced on Friday, November 4, 2016, that it would release its last hostage / prisoner, the former Congressman Odin Sanchez. Sanchez should be release hours before the launch of official talks. In December it was announced that the official phase of peace talks between the government and the last leftist guerrilla would be delayed until early 2017. The talks have been rescheduled to be launched on January 10, 2016 – unless another unexpected dispute causes further delays.

CH/L & A/N – nsnbc 04.01.2016

About the Author

- Dr. Christof Lehmann is the founder and editor of nsnbc. He is a psychologist and former independent political consultant on conflict, conflict resolution and a wide range of other political issues. In March 2013 he established nsnbc as a daily, independent, international on-line newspaper. He can be contacted at nsnbc international at

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