The National Liberation Army (ELN), considered the last guerrilla in Colombia, announced Monday, March 30, a unilateral ceasefire of a month due to the Covid-19 pandemic and proposed to the government of President Ivan Duque to negotiate a bilateral halt to the clashes.
"The National Liberation Army declared (…) an active unilateral cease-fire, from 1er and until April 30, as a humanitarian gesture towards the Colombian people, who are suffering from the tragedy of the coronavirus "the guerrillas said in a statement. The organization evokes the call of the UN for a cease-fire of all conflicts in the world, as well as the demand " in the same way " of“Social and political organizations of Colombia”.
Government High Commissioner Miguel Ceballos, however, deemed the announcement of the guerrillas insufficient. "We have only learned of the ELN’s decision to ceasefire for a month. I believe the country expects much more than that. We face a huge challenge, thousands of people can die ”, he said in an interview with W radio, referring to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Colombia had at least 702 confirmed cases of people with the new coronavirus since Sunday March 6, including ten who died.
A "strain spread voluntarily"
In its statement – published, among others, by the left-wing senator Ivan Cepeda, in favor of a peace agreement -, the guerrillas also indicate that it reserves the " law " to defend oneself from "Attacks" law enforcement, such as drug gangs, over which it has control of several parts of the country.
"We call on the government (…) to order the cantonment of its troops"added the ELN, urging President Ivan Duque to reactivate contacts with the guerrilla delegation in Cuba, with a view to consultations for a "Bilateral and temporary ceasefire".
After the signing, in 2016, of a historic peace agreement with the former guerrilla of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which had since been disarmed, negotiations had been started with the ELN the following year by the previous government , first in Quito, Ecuador, then in Havana. But they were interrupted by President Duque following a car bomb attack on the police academy in Bogota, in which 22 cadets were killed in January 2019.
The ELN, which appeared as the FARC in 1964 and was inspired by the Cuban revolution, has some 2,300 combatants and is present in 10% of the 1,100 Colombian municipalities, according to independent surveys. In its statement, the guerrillas expressed several criticisms towards the management of the health crisis by the government, affirming that the new coronavirus comes from ’"A strain artificially produced in a laboratory and deliberately spread by agents from the United States".
Conditions imposed by President Duque
After the peace talks broke down, Bogota asked Havana to arrest and return the delegation of ELN negotiators to Colombia. This has resulted in a deterioration in relations between the two countries, Cuba having refused and called for compliance with the protocols signed by the parties to guarantee the return of the rebels to their country if the talks fail. Ceballos also estimated on Monday that the conditions were not met for a “Open space for dialogue” and that the ceasefire fell under the " responsibility " ELN.
However, he indicated that the government had appointed two ex-guerrillas as peace managers with a view to possible rapprochement with the armed group, under the conditions imposed by President Duque: release of the hostages from the guerrillas and suspension of their "Criminal activity", which ELN has always refused.
From Havana, the Cuban foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, greeted on Monday "ELN humanitarian gesture by declaring a unilateral cease-fire" in response to the appeal by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. "Cuba's support for peace remains unchanged", he wrote on Twitter.
Thursday, the day after Colombia's total confinement due to Covid-19, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced the release by the guerrillas of three hostages of Colombian nationality, kidnapped a month ago.
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