The Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) resumed the 5th round of peace talks Thursday in Quito, Ecuador and agreed to continue this round of talks until May 18, the delegations from both sides announced in a joint statement.
The statement said that the ELN and the government were discussing the possibility of agreeing on a new bilateral ceasefire. The last one was agreed on in October last year and lasted for 101 days.
"We will resume the work of the dialogue table, addressing in this cycle the points of participation of society in the construction of peace, the assessment of the bilateral, temporary and national ceasefire that ended on Jan. 9 of this year and the construction of an agreement to a new cessation," both parties stated in the document.
The peace talks remained suspended for two months, since Jan. 9, when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos decided to leave the negotiation table following attacks by ELN rebels. The attacks, which according to ELN’s Chief Negotiation Pablo Beltran were not ordered by the Central Command, took place after a bilateral ceasefire between the two parties expired.
Santos’ decision to resume negotiations was announced Monday, one day after Colombia’s legislative elections and a day before the ELN’s unilateral “electoral” ceasefire was set to expire.
Santos, whose government signed the historic peace treaty with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), will end his second presidential term in August 2018. If he is not able to reach an agreement with the ELN, the peace process would depend on the newly elected government which could be led by Ivan Duque, a strong detractor of the peace agreement signed with FARC.
After the legislative elections Duque’s party, Democratic Center, founded by former right-wing President Alvaro Uribe, became the first political power in the senate posing the real possibility of congressional boycott to the peace process even if a peace advocate like left-leaning candidates Gustavo Petro, currently leading the polls, or Sergio Fajardo reach the presidency.
In the president’s statement Monday, Santos argued his decision responded to the imperative of saving lives. He also told peace detractors, “dialogue… is not synonym of weakness. To the contrary, it is an act of responsibility, courage, commitment to the present but mostly to the future of Colombians.”