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Colombian rebel group halts peace talks

By GERMAN SANCHEZ in Bogota | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-02-23 09:40

Representative of the National Liberation Army (ELN) Pablo Beltran speaks during the sixth round of peace dialogues between Colombia's government and the National Liberation Army, accompanied by Vera Grabe Loewenherz, chief of Delegation of the Government of Colombia, Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez and Eugenio Martinez, General Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, in La Habana, Cuba, Feb 6, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

Barely two weeks after agreeing with the government to extend a cease-fire for six months, Colombia's National Liberation Army, or ELN, rebels announced they were suspending peace talks being held in Cuba.

In a statement on Tuesday, the ELN accused the government of not keeping its promises, noting that while talks were supposed to be national in scope, parallel talks were being held at a more local level in Colombia's Narino region. The ELN said those parallel talks had thrown the current efforts into crisis.

The government of Colombia and the ELN agreed on Feb 6 to extend a six-month cease-fire deal for another 180 days, offering continued hope that the more than five decades of armed conflict may be nearing an end.

According to separate statements from the government and the ELN, the "bilateral, national and temporary cease-fire" would be prolonged but a permanent peace may prove challenging to achieve.

Colombia has a long history of violence linked to internal armed conflict. Since the 1960s, guerrilla groups like the ELN have waged war against the state while right-wing paramilitaries and drug trafficking gangs perpetuated their own campaigns of terror.

The government of President Gustavo Petro started negotiating with the ELN in 2022 as part of a push to achieve what the administration called "total peace". There have been multiple rounds of talks in Venezuela, Mexico and Cuba since then.

Difficulties ahead

"This guerrilla group shows no real willingness for peace. While they call for a bilateral cease-fire, they fail to take even the first step toward one," said Ana Milena, a communications and political scientist.

Much of the difficulty in negotiating a definitive peace agreement comes from complacency within the government, Milena said.

In the meantime, some observers worry about the cost of peace. Among them is Diana Diago, a politician and councilwoman in Colombia's capital Bogota.

There are reports of ELN attacks on civilians, left and right, across many parts of the country, as seen in Cauca and elsewhere, she said.

"As the ELN continues to strengthen" through negotiations, the rebels "will increasingly arm themselves and regain territorial control. Unfortunately, this will likely plunge the country back into armed conflict", Diago said.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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