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On Tuesday, July 25th, National Liberation Army (ELN) leaders met with the Colombian government in Ecuador to negotiate an end to the war with Colombia’s last-standing rebel group by proposing a three-month bilateral ceasefire. The bilateral ceasefire was agreed upon by both parties with the condition from Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos that the guerrillas must end all forms of aggression and violent activity towards innocent civilians and public property, including oil pipelines and facilities. Earlier this year, the government refused to agree to the bilateral ceasefire, but considering the highly anticipated arrival of Pope Francis on September 6th, the government has now decided to move forward with the ceasefire, allowing for just over a month to reach a final peace agreement.
Numerous peace talks with the ELN have been attempted over the past decade, but none have been successful. Some analysts speculate that the government’s overwhelming focus on peace agreements with the larger and more powerful leftist rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC-EP) has resulted in the ELN’s unwillingness to negotiate. For more than a half a century, the Colombian government has been at war with the FARC-EP, resulting in over 250,000 civilian casualties, 60,000 people missing and more than 7 million displaced according to TIME. As of December 1st 2016, the government had succeeded in reaching a final peace agreement with the FARC-EP and is now aiming to continue such success with the ELN, potentially marking the end of a 52-year war between rebel groups and the Colombian state.
The ELN advocates for the resolution of socioeconomic problems of ongoing political corruption, poverty, and political exclusion of Colombians from their government. With over 2,000 combatants, the ELN is considered to be a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union due to its long history of kidnappings and attacks on oil infrastructure in Colombia. According to Pais Libre, a Colombian foundation for victims of abductions, the ELN is responsible for the death of 153 hostages and 3,000 abductions between 2000 and 2007. In addition, there have been 32 bombings so far this year, according to Ecopetrol, causing substantial environmental damage. More recently, in June 2017, the ELN bombed Colombia’s second largest oil pipeline, the Cano Limon-Convenas, stopping the flow of oil for 56 days.
Regardless of what history may present itself as, there is still a tremendous amount of hope for Colombia to end the war under Santos’ administration and all the progress it has made with the FARC-EP. As long as both parties are willing to negotiate and remain true to the conditions of the bilateral ceasefire, the end of the war with all rebel groups in Colombia may be near. Now, it may also be the inevitable that a successful peace agreement is reached come September considering the ELN partially depends on violent acts such as kidnapping and extortion for the financing of its armies, acts that are prohibited under the conditions of the ceasefire. If the rebel group’s army cannot be financed and is too weak to fight the battle, they may be left with no choice but to reach a final peace agreement with the government.