The National Liberation Army (ELN), a Colombian guerrilla group, has declared an end to its practice of kidnapping. This announcement came at the conclusion of the fifth round of peace talks with the Colombian government, held in Mexico. This decision mirrors a similar commitment made recently by the Central General Staff of the FARC, a dissident faction from the former FARC guerrilla group.
The ELN’s decision is a key step in meeting the Colombian government’s conditions for progressing in the peace talks. This move comes in the wake of a major kidnapping incident in Colombia last November, which sparked widespread condemnation from civil society.
Vera Grabe, the newly appointed leader of the government’s peace delegation, remarked on the significance of this development in a world beset by conflict.
Additionally, the talks have led to agreements on community participation in affected areas and the establishment of an observation centre to address paramilitarism. Plans are also underway to transform eight critical zones into regions of peace.
Colombian guerrilla to stop kidnapping
A month ago, the two peace talks that Colombia is conducting with the ELN and the FARC’s Central General Staff were going through an unprecedented crisis that endangered one of the most determined projects of President Gustavo Petro, the Total Peace project with the various armed groups operating in the country.
The main crisis occurred when the ELN kidnapped Manuel Diaz, father of the Colombian international soccer player Lucho Diaz. Although the kidnap ended with the voluntary release of the hostage, a few days later, the arrogant and self-justifying attitude of the illegal armed group put the government on the ropes. The peace process received harsh criticism from the political opposition, a majority of civil society and even from members close to the government.
In this context, which forced the departure of the High Commissioner for Peace, Danilo Rueda, President Petro himself made the armed groups’ decision and announcement to abandon kidnapping a condition for the success of the talks.
Nevertheless, Sunday’s announcement is a boost to the peace process and a détente for the government, which has defended its Total Peace policy against criticism from various sectors in recent weeks.
Extension of the ceasefire by Colombian guerrilla groups
The other important announcement at the end of the fifth round of talks is the extension of the bilateral ceasefire between the State and the ELN, which was due to expire in mid-January. The maintenance of this ceasefire represents an important challenge for the illegal armed group, since in some areas of the country, such as in the department of Chocó, the ELN is harassed by paramilitary groups with which it competes militarily.
However, the guerrillas have declared that they will fulfill their commitments to Colombia. “What has been signed here is because the ELN is going to fulfill it,” said Pablo Beltrán, ELN spokesman in the peace talks.
Now what is expected, with the Christmas recess, is the resumption of the talks in what will be the sixth round, after more than a year of talks between the State and the ELN. This new period will begin in Cuba on January 22, 2024.