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Published On: Fri, Aug 11th, 2017

Colombia’s ELN might declare unilateral ceasefire for Pope’s visit in September

nsnbc : Colombia’s leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) may declare a temporary unilateral ceasefire for the occasion of the visit of Pope Francis to Colombia next month. Last month the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and the ELN agreed to hold contiguous talks aimed to reach a bilateral ceasefire agreement before the Pope’s visit in early September.

Pablo Beltan_ELM_Colombia_Quito_EcuadorThe ELN leadership, earlier this week, announced that the ELN was prepared to declare a temporary unilateral ceasefire in September if attempts to reach a bilateral ceasefire agreement before the visit of Pope Francis should fail.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) and President Juan Manuel Santos’s government are negotiating a peace deal in Ecuador that may allow the two sides to halt hostilities while the Pope is visiting Colombia, the guerrilla leader said. However, less than a month before the arrival of Pope Francis the parties have not yet signaled that a bilateral ceasefire agreement was in sight.

‘We’re going to make all the necessary effort so that the ceasefire is bilateral, but if it’s not achievable we will consider the possibility of making it unilateral,’ Pablo Beltran, the ELN’s chief negotiator, told reporters.  “His holiness Francis is a pope who has returned the church to think in terms of the impoverished and excluded majorities”, he added.

Beltran described Francis as “a progressive Pope”. The ELN is the last-standing leftist guerrilla in Colombia. Its philosophical roots and policies are based rooted in Marxism, liberation theology, and to some degree syndicalism.

In March 2016 the Colombian government and the ELN met in Caracas, Venezuela, announce the launch of official peace talks in May 2016. However, the start of the talks was delayed by almost one year.

In March 2016 the Colombian government and the ELN met in Caracas, Venezuela, announce the launch of official peace talks in May 2016. However, the start of the talks was delayed by almost one year.

The government and the ELN began formal peace negotiations in February 2017 after an almost one-year-long delay, and after more than three years of secret talks on an agenda and logistics.

Santos and his administration demanded that the ELN stop kidnappings, hostilities against civilians and attacks on oil infrastructure to move toward a bilateral ceasefire. The ELN, for its part, stressed that its activities are  defensive and a reaction to military offensives against its fighters. The ELN has about 2,000 combatants and is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

Beltran also said the ELN has moved into some areas once occupied by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which signed a peace deal with the government late last year, ending its part in a half-century conflict that has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.

The ELN “expansion” has in part been forced by the fact that many previously FARC-controlled areas are being overrun by right-wing neo-paramilitaries or drug cartels and the government’s failure at providing security for especially leftist politicians and grassroots activists there.

Beltran noted that it would be tough to conclude peace negotiations before Santos leaves office next year, so talks must progress firmly so that the next administration feels pressured to continue with the process.

A/N & CH/L – nsnbc 11.08.2017

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