After experiencing doubts and conflicting statements, Colombia and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group publicly announced a six-month extension of their bilateral ceasefire shortly before midnight on February 5. The announcement came after a day filled with tense anticipation. Despite efforts, the parties could not finalize the agreement within the allotted time, leading to a 24-hour extension of discussions in Havana. Ultimately, the pact was successfully sealed late that night.
The sixth round of talks between the Colombian State and the ELN guerrilla concluded with both parties committing to uphold the cease-fire and the ELN agreeing to halt kidnappings for economic gain. The next negotiation session, scheduled for April, will assess adherence to these commitments.
Early morning agreement
In line with the peace process’s typical challenges, the announcement followed periods of crisis and concerns over meeting deadlines. Allegations of breaches and disagreements on verification methods extended negotiations unnecessarily. Initially set to conclude on January 29, this round of talks experienced a seven-day delay. Ultimately, near midnight, the anticipated agreement and ceasefire extension were disclosed.
“We have agreed to extend from 00:00 hours on February 6, 2024, for one hundred and eighty days, the Bilateral, National and Temporary Ceasefire. Each party will give the respective orders and instructions for the fulfillment of this extension.” The statement appeared shortly after midnight on the social networks of the ELN peace delegation.
There will be no kidnapping during this time
The armed group also announced that it has already given the relevant orders to the units operating in the territory to respect the ceasefire. In a second document, the ELN maintains its commitment not to use kidnapping, what the group calls “retentions”, during the same period of 180 days, until August.
“The National Liberation Army (…) unilaterally and temporarily suspends the economic retentions. Commitment that will be followed up by the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism”, reads the text issued.
With the end of the sixth round of talks, a period of two months is opened in which the parties will not meet. The next round has been set for April, but the location has not yet been specified. It will address the verification of compliance with what was agreed yesterday.
The agreement not to kidnap is perhaps one of the most sensitive points for the government. For two months now, Colombia’s peace delegates have insisted on the importance of leaving civilians out of the conflict and have identified this criminal practice as a red line in the peace negotiations.
The temporary stop to kidnapping is a step forward in a very difficult situation that many people don’t trust. Critics in the country have spoken out against the process because it doesn’t have a lot of public support. It’s worth noting that in January 2019, President Ivan Duque stopped the peace efforts started by the previous president, Juan Manuel Santos, after the ELN group attacked a police school in Bogota, killing 23 people.
The sixth round of agreements includes establishing a donor fund to finance peace efforts. The armed group alluded to this development in a statement last Friday, suggesting the creation of the fund to help implement the agreements.
“After a year and a half of dialogues and after evaluating the first six months of the bilateral, national and temporary ceasefire, measures are being taken to address crisis factors and incorporate new elements of commitment by both parties, in order to agree on an extension of another six months of this ceasefire,” the armed group’s note said.
This has been a complex and controversial point because with it, the government of President Petro seeks an alternative way to facilitate the definitive abandonment of the practice of kidnapping by the ELN. This guerrilla organization already stated in November, when the most serious crisis of the whole dialogue process was experienced, that it was willing to rethink this practice, but alleged the need for financing to justify it.
The leadership of the armed group repeatedly insisted on the importance of seeking alternatives to financing their armed band. The donor fund could be supervised by the guarantor countries of this peace process, such as Norway, but is subject to compliance with International Humanitarian Law.