The Colombian government and the country’s largest remaining guerrilla group have announced they will resume peace talks next month for the first time since 2018.
After a meeting in Caracas, representatives of the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army issued a statement saying a start date for the peace talks would be announced after the first week of November. The statement added that Norway, Venezuela and Cuba would be “guarantor states” in the talks, and that the participation of civil society groups would be “essential” to the success of the peace talks.
A venue for the talks has not yet been announced, although an ELN commander, Antonio García, suggested that different phases of the negotiations could be held in Cuba, Norway and Venezuela.
The ELN was founded in the 1960s by students, union leaders and Catholic priests, inspired by the Cuban revolution. The group is believed to have about 4,000 fighters in Colombia and also has a presence deep in Venezuela, where it operates illegal gold mines and drug trafficking routes.
Following a peace agreement in 2016 between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FArc), the ELN became the country’s largest surviving guerrilla group. Since then, it has expanded its operations into areas previously under Farc control. The group is known for organizing ransom kidnappings and attacks on oil infrastructure and has been listed as a terrorist organization by the US and EU.
Colombia’s recently elected president, Gustavo Petro, is the country’s first leftist leader and has pledged to sign peace agreements with the ELN and other armed groups in Colombia. He has deviated from the strategy of the previous government, which suspended talks with the ELN after the rebels refused to stop attacking military targets.
In a press conference after the meeting between the two sides, Colombia’s peace commissioner Danilo Rueda said the ELN had shown changes in its behavior that had won it the trust of the government. Rueda said the rebel group had recently released hostages and scaled back attacks on the Colombian military.
The ELN has not disclosed details of what it would seek in exchange for laying down its weapons. But the commander, García, hinted that the group was looking for political and economic change.
“The way to seek peace is not just by thinking about weapons, but by addressing the root causes of this conflict, which is inequality and the lack of democracy,” García said.
In the 2016 peace deal with the Farc, Colombia gave the rebel group 10 seats in the national congress and the ability to form its own political party, while allowing rebel leaders who collaborated with a transitional justice system to avoid jail time. The Colombian government also agreed to fund land rights and rural development projects as part of the peace agreement.