Rebels from Colombia and the ELN begin to move to restart peace talks

HAVANA (AP) — Colombia’s new government and members of the country’s last guerrilla group took steps Friday to restart peace talks that were suspended three years ago in Cuba.

After a meeting between representatives of both parties in Havana, Colombia’s national peace commissioner, Danilo Rueda, said that the government will take the necessary “judicial and political measures” to make possible peace talks with the National Liberation Army, known as ELN.

Observers believe those steps are likely to include lifting arrest warrants for ELN negotiators currently in exile in Cuba.

The administration of newly inaugurated President Gustavo Petro will engage with the ELN delegation and considers them legitimate representatives of the rebel group, Rueda said.

“We believe that the ELN has the same desire for peace as the Colombian government,” Rueda said in his statement. “And I hope that you are listening to the many voices in different territories that are seeking a peaceful solution to this armed conflict.”

Peace talks between Colombia’s previous government and the ELN ended in 2019 after rebels blew up a car bomb at a police academy in Bogotá, killing more than 20 cadets.

Following that incident, Colombian authorities issued arrest warrants against ELN leaders in Cuba for peace negotiations. But Cuba refused to extradite them, arguing that doing so would compromise its status as a neutral nation in the conflict and break diplomatic protocols.

The United States responded by placing Cuba on its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Petro has said he wants to start peace talks with the nation’s remaining armed groups in an effort to reduce violence in rural areas and bring lasting peace to the nation of 50 million people.

A 2016 peace deal between the government and the nation’s largest guerrilla army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, helped reduce kidnappings, killings and forced displacement.

But violence has intensified in some parts of the country as holdouts of the FARC, drug-trafficking groups and the ELN fight over cocaine smuggling routes, illegal mines and other resources abandoned by the FARC.

In July, criminal groups carried out nearly 90 attacks against police and military personnel, killing 13 police officers, according to CERAC, a think tank that monitors violence in Colombia. That made it one of the most dangerous months for Colombia’s armed forces in the past two decades.

The ELN, which was founded in the 1960s, has long been designated by the US State Department as a foreign terrorist organization. The group has approximately 2,500 fighters in Colombia and also operates drug trafficking routes, extortion and illegal mines in neighboring Venezuela.


Rueda reported from Bogotá, Colombia.


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