Colombia, ELN rebels hail progress in second round of peace talks

ELN official says two sides took ‘first steps’ towards a temporary ceasefire as negotiations in Mexico City conclude.

Mexico Colombia
Colombia's Vice President Francia Marquez and Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard embrace at the end of the second round of talks between the ELN rebels and the Colombian government in Mexico [Marco Ugarte/AP Photo]

Colombia’s government and the left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group have hailed progress in their efforts to end decades of armed conflict in the South American nation, as a second round of peace talks concluded in Mexico City.

The negotiations come as part of an effort by President Gustavo Petro – the country’s first left-wing leader and former M-19 rebel – to reach peace or surrender deals with armed groups and bring “total peace” to Colombia.

The ELN, founded by Catholic priests in 1964, is the country’s largest remaining rebel organisation.

“We took the first steps to firm up a bilateral, national and temporary ceasefire which will create better conditions for Colombians’ mobilisation and participation in the peace process,” the ELN’s Pablo Beltran said on Friday.

Otty Patino, the head of the Colombian government’s delegation, said creating a ceasefire will be a top challenge for the next cycle of talks set to take place in Cuba, as will developing a “pilot plan” for peace and expanding participation in the negotiations.

The first round of peace talks, held in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas late last year, resulted in diverging narratives. Colombia’s government announced a truce had been reached while the ELN denied it had accepted any such agreement, saying a ceasefire “was merely a proposal to be considered”.

Previous negotiations with the ELN have faltered amid the group’s diffuse chain of command and dissent within its ranks.

In 2019, conservative former President Ivan Duque called off peace talks with the ELN after a car bomb attack on a police academy in Bogota that killed 22 people.

ELN leaders have said fighters are on board with the current talks.

On Friday, Norway and Mexico, which have served as facilitators in the negotiations, hailed their progress.

“Congratulations to the [Colombian] government and the #ELN guerilla on substantial progress in the peace talks in Mexico, on key topics like participation, humanitarian relief & future cease fire,” Norway’s foreign affairs ministry tweeted.

The ELN has about 2,500 remaining fighters and has been accused of financing itself through drug trafficking, illegal mining and kidnappings.

Petro, who won the election in June, has also said he plans to fully implement a previous accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed in 2016.

More than 450,000 people have been killed in nearly 60 years of armed conflict in the country.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies