Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) released six soldiers it was holding, as part of the group's effort to restoring peace talks with the Colombian state under the new government of right-wing President Ivan Duque.
The news comes a week after the ELN freed three other soldiers as Duque continues to require the group to unilaterally release "hostages" as a condition for restarting the peace talks.
“The ELN fulfills its word as promised. This liberation is a unilateral humanitarian action,” Uriel, an insurgent commander, said in a video. The commander also denounced the government rejected to suspend any military operation in order to facilitate the release.
Duque has said the ELN must free 19 detained people before he will resume dialogue. He said during his August 7 inauguration he would evaluate the talks, which began with his predecessor Juan Manuel Santos’ government in February 2017, over his first 30 days.
But the ELN claims the government is not doing their part for the release of the detainees. “We freed them unilaterally because, for the government, their soldiers and police officers don’t even deserve the signing of a protocol to guarantee humanitarian action,” said the ELN in a statement. “Five weeks of unjustified delay, caused by the government.”
It also says the peace dialogue remains a priority, but the ELN will continue with its own political-military agenda and exercising its “right to rebellion.” The ELN also blames the government for trying to establish the dialogue in the middle of a confrontation.
“Unlike the government, we have clear that the dynamic of the dialogue shouldn’t be conditioned nor forced by blackmailing,” the ELN statement reads.
The insurgent group said it was on constant military operations while the soldiers were being held, but they were always treated in the best possible way. “A treatment that the political and social prisoners, women and men, would like to get. A treatment that Commander Samuelito, who was killed cold-blooded instead of arrested in spite of being disarmed and wearing no uniform, didn’t get.”
The statement criticizes military actions by Colombia’s armed forces in conjunction with illegal paramilitary groups, aiming to cause terror in local communities and push forward large-scale projects, attracting multinational investment.
The last round of talks, held in Cuba, ended August 1. The rebel group is believed to be holding six more security force members in Choco province, as well as 10 other detainees.
The ELN said on Monday that Duque's conditions to restart the dialoque were unacceptable, but the group intends to release the detainees anyway. On Thursday September 6, the group released other three soldiers.