Colombia has postponed the resumption of dialogue with the National Liberation Army guerrillas (ELN), which was supposed to start on November 17 in Mexico City. Government sources have claimed that this was because they wanted an urgent meeting with the armed group to address the issue of kidnappings before resuming peace talks.
The start of the new phase of dialogues has been postponed indefinitely, awaiting agreement on a new date by both delegations. This reality shows that the peace process, which has been ongoing for a year, was heavily affected after the kidnapping of the father of Colombian footballer Luis Diaz by the illegal armed group.
The government has faced weeks of intense criticism from various sectors questioning the continuation of negotiations with a group that has refused to renounce this practice. At one point, the ELN justified kidnapping as a necessary financing mechanism.
Pre-meeting to address the kidnapping
In this regard, the head of the government’s peace delegation, Otty Patiño, has demanded an urgent meeting with the ELN, before the next round of negotiations, to address the issue of kidnapping.
“The rejection and indignation expressed by the national and international public opinion regarding the kidnapping of Mr. Luis Manuel Diaz, and the hostages that you still hold, along with your unacceptable justifications for continuing kidnappings, demand an urgent and extraordinary meeting between the leadership of the two delegations before the next cycle,” argues Patiño in the letter to ELN’s delegation leader, Pablo Beltrán.
Since the ELN was involved in the kidnapping of Luis Manuel Díaz, the father of the renowned Colombian athlete, the issue of the practice of kidnapping by the illegal group has been at the center of social and political debates.
“The time has come to make decisions to eliminate kidnapping, as we have requested since the beginning of the dialogues. Our delegation demands from now on, and will demand in the next meeting with the ELN delegation, that each of the people held captive by this organization be released immediately under safe and dignified conditions,” expressed the Colombian peace delegation.
For now, the head of the guerrilla peace delegation, Pablo Beltrán, has not responded to the document, and it is expected that in the meeting scheduled for the upcoming days, a new approach on kidnapping during the ceasefire and progress in the fifth round of negotiations will be discussed.
President Petro demands an end to kidnappings
President Gustavo Petro has stated that he has spoken “with the President of Mexico to expedite the phase of meetings with the ELN” to be held in that country. However, the Colombian president has insisted that “there is a fundamental issue which is kidnapping, International Humanitarian Law, displacement, extortion, recruitment of minors, there is a series of problems that we call hostilities against the civilian population that must be overcome.”
Similarly, Interior Minister Luis Fernando Velasco has addressed the issue. It is worth noting that Velasco was heavily criticized by the political opposition for statements which some interpreted as justification of the practice of kidnapping as a form of ELN’s financing.
“The country will not accept negotiations where kidnappings are maintained. All Colombians condemn kidnapping,” emphasized the minister.
Negotiations on standby since August
The fourth cycle of negotiations, held in Venezuela, ended on August 4. At that time, the peace delegations of the State and the ELN agreed on creating zones in the country to execute development plans, progress with the bilateral ceasefire, and the participation of citizens in the peace process.
Following these agreements, the committee for citizen participation was set up in Bogota, with the participation of a broad delegation from the illegal armed group. This committee fulfilled point 9 of the agreement and became the “special and transitional instance articulated to the Peace Talks Table,” as explained by the government and ELN delegations in a joint statement.
Since then, the complex peace negotiations with this armed group seemed to be on track until the news of the kidnapping of Luis Manuel Díaz in Barrancas, La Guajira department. The news, which had a significant international impact because he is the father of a well-known Colombian playing football in Europe, has disrupted the necessary discretion and tranquility with which these negotiations should be conducted.
The outcome of the “urgent meeting” requested by the government’s peace delegation with the ELN to address the issue of kidnappings will determine the future of talks with the historic illegal armed group, which is a central pillar of the Total Peace government project.