The Colombian government and representatives of the National Liberation Army, ELN, are meeting in Ecuador’s capital city of Quito to renew their September ceasefire.
The ceasefire agreement, known as the Bilateral, Temporary and National Ceasefire Agreement, is set to expire Jan. 9. It was reached several months ago in Quito. The Colombian government delegation is headed by the country’s former vice president, Gustavo Bell.
He's accompanied by political science professors and experts on the decades-long armed conflict in Colombia, Angelika Rettberg and Socorro Ramirez, as well as Colombian military generals Freddy Padilla and Carlos Rojas. Also assisting in the negotiations are diplomat Jose Noe Rios and Alejandro Reyes Lozano from the country’s High Commission for Peace.
For its part, the ELN will be represented by Bernardo Tellez and Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista, among others.
This latest round of ELN-government ceasefire talks has gained the attention and support of over 150 businesses, activists, academics, artists, union leaders and victims of Colombia’s conflict who, along with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, signed a letter urging negotiators to “continue to dialogue ... and to do whatever it takes, but don’t leave space for a war.”
"Today there are new opportunities to bridge the historic divides that exist to construct a more stable and unified country," Guterres added in a separate communique.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said in a tweet that “we’re more than ready to extend the ceasefire with the ELN and negotiate the conditions for a new ceasefire.”
ELN members have said they “aren’t giving up on peace," but criticize the government for not keeping up on its end of the deal to protect social leaders and activists in rural regions.
In these areas, the Marxist guerrilla movement has disarmed and has been replaced by violent right-wing paramilitaries, especially in northern departments of Colombia.
Tellez told El Tiempo that the government is "failing to protect human and civil rights leaders" in the countryside from assassinations and threats by paramilitary groups.
Tellez stressed that despite any government failings, his group is going to “work very hard ... toward a new ceasefire accord, one that is qualitatively superior” to the current agreement.
Representatives from Chile, Cuba, Brazil, Norway and Venezuela are expected to continue serving as observers.