26 May 2024, 15:40

olombia, ELN guerillas reach first agreement in peace talks


CARACAS, May 26, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Colombia's government and the ELN guerrilla group on Saturday signed the first agreement of their stop-start peace talks, which provides for the participation of civil society in the process.

The signing of the first of six accords on the peace agenda represents a major advance in the slow-moving dialogue between Bogota and the Marxist ELN, or National Liberation Army.

The negotiations, meant to end decades of armed conflict, began in late 2022 and resumed in early April this year in Venezuela.

"We know that peace is not built on oblivion and impunity, and that the voice of the victims is fundamental to this process and the legitimacy of the agreements," said representatives of the Colombian government and the ELN in a joint statement, referring to the involvement of civil society.

"We are committed to organizing and holding a meeting at which the victims of armed conflict... will present proposals" to enrich the peace process, the statement added.

Pablo Beltran, head of the ELN delegation, said the first agreed point "seeks that there be a great social and political alliance, that we go towards a great national agreement."

In February, the ELN temporarily froze peace talks in response to officials' negotiations with a dissident faction.

In mid-April, the parties resumed the process, but in early May the ELN announced it would resume kidnappings -- a means to raise funds through ransom money -- claiming that the left-wing government of President Gustavo Petro had not honored pledges to provide the group with international donations.

The government said at the time foreign funds were intended to finance the peace process, not compensate the group for halting kidnappings.

Despite Saturday's progress, the resumption of kidnappings remains a critical point in the dialogue between the two sides, who have maintained a bilateral ceasefire.

One of the group's high-profile kidnappings in recent years was that of the father of Liverpool footballer Luis Diaz last October.

He was released 12 days after he was taken in what the ELN described as a "mistake."

Founded in 1964, the ELN had more than 5,800 combatants in 2022, according to authorities.
The guerilla group, inspired by the Cuban revolution, has taken part in failed negotiations with Colombia's last five governments.

The ELN has a centralized command but individual units have a degree of autonomy, further complicating peace talks.

Negotiations with the ELN resumed in November 2022 after the election of Colombia's first-ever leftist president Petro.

In 2016, the much larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, laid down arms in a historic peace accord, though violence in the country has continued.


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