Colombia, ELN rebels begin six-month ceasefire

Ceasefire, set to run for 180 days, marks largest victory so far in President Gustavo Petro’s ‘total peace’ plan.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaks at a podium
The ceasefire deal between Colombian President Gustavo Petro's government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group is the result of peace talks that restarted last year [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

A six-month ceasefire between the Colombian government and the country’s largest remaining armed rebel group has entered into force, in the largest victory for President Gustavo Petro in his push to end decades of armed conflict.

The ceasefire, set to run until February, is the product of ongoing peace talks between the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the government, which restarted last year.

Petro, who took office in August 2022, has made pursuing “total peace” in the South American nation a key plank of his administration and promised to negotiate with armed groups.

“The ELN central command orders all units to suspend offensive operations against the armed forces, police and security organisations of the Colombian state,” the group’s top commander, Eliecer Herlinto Chamorro, known as Antonio Garcia, said in a video on Monday.

The ELN will continue to defend itself during the ceasefire if needed, Garcia added.

The government’s high peace commissioner, Danilo Rueda, on Tuesday said the ceasefire would prevent violence and human rights abuses like kidnappings. “The civilian population can rest easy during the period of the ceasefire,” Rueda said.

If the 180-day ceasefire is successful, it will be the “longest bilateral ceasefire ever concluded with [a] guerrilla group”, the International Crisis Group has said.

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

Talks between Bogota and the ELN, which counts approximately 2,000 to 5,000 fighters, were relaunched in November of last year in neighbouring Venezuela after they were suspended in 2019 under Petro’s predecessor, Ivan Duque.

The negotiations have advanced further than any of Petro’s other peacebuilding efforts.

Petro and the negotiating teams are set to inaugurate a committee meant to guarantee the presence of civil society at the talks later on Thursday.

A day earlier, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution to renew and expand an observer mission to Colombia to monitor the ELN ceasefire. The resolution authorises as many as 68 additional international observers to join the mission.

Meanwhile, Colombians living in violence-plagued areas of the country have expressed cautious optimism around the ceasefire.

Marlon Bebedo, a resident of the western department of Choco who works at the Human Rights Network of the Pacific, said local residents were “hopeful but sceptical”.

“What we want, from affected territories, is that all armed groups enter into an agreement to advance towards true peace,” he told Al Jazeera this week. “That is what we want them to show the Colombian people.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies