The Colombian government and the ELN rebels have agreed to a temporary ceasefire that will last until the 12th of January 2018. It is the first time in more than fifty years of conflict that the two parties have reached this type of agreement. The talks between the guerrillas, founded in 1964, and the Colombian government started just months after the peace agreement with FARC was announced. After FARC, ELN is the second biggest rebel group in the country and Colombians are well aware of the necessity in reaching a deal with the group in order to achieve ‘complete peace.’ The talks with ELN are being held in Quito, Ecuador, and have bolstered the optimism in the country. This is perhaps the biggest opportunity in history to find a negotiated and definite solution to political violence in Colombia.
In a press release, the United Nations Mission in Colombia celebrated the cease-fire. The international organization believes that “the main objective of the agreement is to improve the humanitarian situation of the population. This act is a concrete step towards a fully respect and application of International Humanitarian Law and will help build confidence in the peace process.”
In response, the Colombian government committed to strengthening the early warning systems to prevent attacks of social leaders. This year alone, more than 150 social activists have been murdered in the country. Nevertheless, President Juan Manuel Santos is optimistic, stating that there is a chance of the ceasefire being extended beyond the initial 102 days.
The announcement was released only days after the visit of Pope Francis to the country. Both the Government and the ELN rebels pointed that the visit of the Catholic leader should encourage the parties to speed up the search for a peace deal. In fact, the main purpose of Pope Francis’ visit was to reinforce the atmosphere of peace in the Colombia and support the rebels, the government and the society in the search for a peaceful resolution of conflicts.
The peace talks with ELN have found in kidnapping the biggest obstacle. The government negotiators, led by Juan Camilo Restrepo, have demanded the immediate suspension of this activity. However, the ELN leaders argue that ransoms are almost their only form of financing, as the group is not as deeply involved in drug trafficking as FARC was. In this regard, small advances such as the ceasefire, even for a fixed term, is a relevant step towards a permanent agreement. ELN has shown a considerable amount of commitment with the talks while the government knows that this is a historical opportunity to demobilize the two biggest guerrillas in the country and the continent. Colombia has the chance to show the world that peaceful solutions can be found to even the most complicated and oldest of disputes. We all hope that this will be the case.
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