COLOMBIA — For the past five decades, there has been a constant battle between the Colombian government and rebel group the National Liberation Army (ELN). The ELN claims that it represents the rural poor in Colombia, but has been named a terrorist group by the U.S. and the EU for its guerrilla warfare tactics.On March 8th, 2017, both groups met in neutral territory, Ecuador, after a recently agreed ceasefire. The Colombia and ELN peace talks are one of the most important meetings in the recent history of the nation.
Over the past five decades, 220,000 people have died, 25,000 people have disappeared and 5.7 million people have been displaced due to the wars between the Colombian government and the ELN. The group has used gun violence, bombings, extortion and kidnappings of civilians and multiple high-profile senators.
The ELN is one of many rebel groups in Colombia, but has close ties to the Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia (FARC). The FARC and ELN are the top rebel groups in Colombia and are infamous for using the same types of guerrilla warfare tactics. During the meeting in March, both groups were represented by the ELN.
Colombia and ELN peace talks were due to start in May of 2016, but they were delayed almost a year because the group was unable to reach a ceasefire agreement with the government.
Peace talks were delayed because of the capture of Colombian Senator Odin Sanchez, who Deutsche Welle reports “voluntarily went into captivity in April 2016 in order to replace his brother, Patrocinio, who had been held by the ELN for three years and had grown seriously ill while being held, prisoner.”
Odin, who was filmed many times during his captivitiy with ELN, spoke many times urging the Colombian government to hold peace talks with the rebel groups. During a video released by the ELN, Odin said “a state who cannot keep all their citizens safe is an incompetent state.” Odin was finally set free by the ELN in February of 2017, in exchange for the release of two ELN soldiers that had been captured by the government.
Before the meeting, the ELN publicized that it wanted the peace talks to address the formulation of agreement to form more political parties, in exchange for a laying down of arms, according to Al Jazeera.
The Mach 2017 Colombia and ELN peace talks were featured around an agenda, of the following accords:
- Future political participation of the FARC
- Rebel integration back into civilian life
- Illegal crop eradication
- Transitional justice and reparations
- Rebel disarmament and peace deal
During the talks, the Colombian government demanded that through rebel disarmament, all 7,000-plus rebels will have to turn all of their arms over to the U.N. Commission. The government plans to achieve the complete disarmament of the rebel groups by April of 2017. The rebels are also supposed to remove all landmines that have been planted along the countryside. The land mines have already killed around 11,000 people.
Post-meeting, it was reported that both parties have different proposals that do not coincide. The ELN was quoted as saying that the “government has no desire for peace.”
– Maria Rodriguez