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Published On: Sat, Jul 15th, 2017

Colombian government captured ELN commander before peace talks, demands ELN stop “taking hostages”

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : Colombian authorities captured the alleged ELN commander known as Diego, of the guerrilla’s almost disbanded Central War Front. He was arrested in the municipality of Rionegro bordering the city of Medellin. The surprising “arrest” comes only days before peace talks between the government and the ELN and demands from the side of the government that the ELN stop “taking hostages”.  

"Captured" ELN commander Diego paraded for the press, only days before peace talks in Quito and demands that the ELN stop taking "hostages".

“Captured” ELN commander Diego paraded for the press, only days before peace talks in Quito and demands that the ELN stop taking “hostages”.

“Diego” was in command of the National Liberation Army’s (ELN) almost disbanded Central Front. He was reportedly in charge of the front since the beginning of 2017 and among others tasked with consolidating the ELN front in the region – a move that was perceived as necessary due to the increased presence of right-wing paramilitaries, and the military’s failure to provide security after the FARC-EP demobilized.

The ELN and the government began peace talks earlier this year after a nearly one-year-long delay. Earlier this week, Colombian government chief negotiator Juan Camilo Restrepo warned that the ELN must agree to a verifiable ceasefire and that ongoing negotiations between the government and the ELN were “its last chance”. He also demanded the ELN stop taking “hostages”.

The posturing came up to the next round of peace talks scheduled for July 24, and against the backdrop of the government’s failure to provide security for grassroots activists and leftist politicians, as well as deteriorating bilateral relations between Colombia and Venezuela.

Posturing before the next round of peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN), Juan Camilo Restrepo warned that “time is running out” and that a ceasefire would not be agreed upon unless cessation of hostilities could be properly verified.

“The ELN never disagreed with such a verification mechanism”, said a source with close ties to the ELN to nsnbc international. “In fact, the ELN would appreciate such a mechanism, especially if the government also assured security against right-wing paramilitaries in areas where the guerrilla has ceased operating. … What is really disturbing, is that Restrepo and the government now seem to use tensions between Colombia and Venezuela as yet another pretext to stall peace talks, and to blame it on the ELN and Venezuela,” she added.

Juan Camilo Restrepo_Colombia_Jul 2017Restrepo said the government has offered a ceasefire with the ELN “on condition of a resounding, verifiable, and clear commitment to cease hostilities with civil society” which includes renouncing kidnappings, recruiting minors, the planting of anti-personnel mines, and attacks on infrastructure.

Ironically, while offering a ceasefire, Restrepo also insisted that “While signing a ceasefire, the Colombian Armed Forces and its intelligence forces will continue to repress, with vigor and energy, as they have been doing, all the terrorist, criminal activities of the ELN”.

Restrepo also claimed that the ELN profited immensely from the chaos in neighboring Venezuela and had seized control over smuggling routes and the parallel economy in the border region”. That statement, however, comes, not as the ELN significantly increased such activities, but as bilateral relations between Bogota and Caracas continue to deteriorate.

In March 2016 the Colombian government and the ELN met in Caracas, Venezuela, announce the launch of official peace talks in May 2016.

In March 2016 the Colombian government and the ELN met in Caracas, Venezuela, announce the launch of official peace talks in May 2016.

A comprehensive agreement on launching peace talks was signed between the Colombian government and the ELN, in March 2017. The initial date set for the launch of the peace talks was May 2016. However, there have been numerous delays and peace talks did not start before early 2017.

With regard to the “vigor” with which Restrepo said the Colombian Armed Forces and its intelligence would crack down on the ELN’s “terrorist and criminal activities”, it is worth noting that the ELN repeatedly complained over the military’s cooperation with right-wing paramilitaries and the failure to provide security for grassroots activists and leftist politicians in traditionally “rebel” controlled areas. The problem has also been highlighted in a documentary (here).

It should also be noted that the ELN offered to remove anti-personnel mines, together with the military. Such cooperation would, however, be problematic as long as the military either cooperates with right-wing-paramilitaries, uses armed forces against the ELN, or fails to provide security in areas where the ELN – sooner or later – might disarm.

It will also be problematic for the ELN to cooperate on peace, as long as the military “arrests” its commanders, only days before peace talks, in areas where the state fails to provide safety and security, while the government demands the ELN stop “taking hostages”.

CH/L – nsnbc 15.07.2017

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 nsnbc.wordpress@gmail.com

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