Colombia has initiated a new cycle of peace talks in Mexico with the illegal armed group known as the National Liberation Army (ELN). After a month of doubts, disagreements, and threats, the fifth round of peace discussions has finally begun, reaching its first anniversary since they commenced in late November 2022.
Though the news was not officially disclosed until today, delegations from the government and the ELN arrived in Mexico City on Thursday, November 30, engaging in bilateral meetings to rebuild trust following the serious crisis the talks faced after the kidnapping of the father of the well-known Colombian footballer, Luis Díaz. Despite the eventual release of the captive, the peace process with this illegal armed group received strong criticism not only from the Colombian political opposition but also from social organizations and certain sectors within the government itself.
Amidst this tense period, Danilo Rueda, High Commissioner for Peace, was dismissed, and Otty Patiño, the former head of the government delegation in the ELN dialogue, took his place.
The initiation of this fifth round of conversations was announced through a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “We trust that, with the willingness of both parties and the support of the international community, this new round of negotiations in our country will pave the way for achieving a definitive and lasting solution to the conflict,” reads the official statement.
However, the note remains silent on the issue that has caused the most headaches for the government’s peace delegates: kidnapping. The serious crisis generated by this practice has pushed the options for peace with this illegal armed group to their limits, as the ELN has announced its intention to retain this tactic, considering it a “form of funding.” In fact, the ELN responded to the State’s demands by stating they “will not comply with any ultimatum,” displaying a defiant attitude toward the demands from the other side.
The government, for its part, has reiterated the urgent need to cease this practice in order to make progress in the peace talks.
The Thorny Issue of Kidnappings
From what is known about these previous discreet meetings held over the last four days in Mexico, the central topic was reaching an agreement for the guerrilla to definitively exclude kidnapping from its financial practices, addressing significant pressure from Colombian society and the international community supporting efforts to consolidate peace in Colombia.
Both President Gustavo Petro and the former head of the government delegation and current High Commissioner for Peace, Otty Patiño, have stated on various occasions that without the ELN’s decision on this matter, the peace process is unlikely to move forward successfully.
At present, this new phase of dialogue coincides with the lifting of the armed strike declared by this illegal organization in an area of the Choco department, in the Colombian Pacific. Meanwhile, the ELN remains silent on whether progress has been made on this primary issue to avoid derailing the dialogue. On their social media, they’ve simply announced the resumption of meetings with the State.
“Our Delegation is back in Mexico to start the Fifth Round of talks at the Dialogue Table. Here, we signed the Mexico Agreement, which contains a different model for peace negotiation, one that stands out because it demands changes and transformations for Peace,” states the ELN delegation’s text.