Peace talks with Colombia government in crisis, ELN rebels say

By Thomson Reuters Feb 21, 2024 | 7:58 AM

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Peace talks between the Colombian government and National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels are in crisis, the guerrilla group said, while the government accused the rebels of dragging out the process.

The two sides restarted talks in 2022 as part of President Gustavo Petro’s bid to reach “total peace” between the government and various armed groups, whose six-decade conflict has killed at least 450,000 people.

The ELN said the government’s participation in regional talks with communities in the province of Narino went against its agreement with the ELN to hold a national dialogue with the support of bodies like the United Nations.

“Now this farce, dressed up as regional dialogue, is public, the process enters into open crisis and we are obliged to recall our delegation for consultations,” the ELN said in a statement posted on its website late on Tuesday.

It said the peace talks, which are between negotiating cycles, would be “frozen” until the government adjusts its position.

The government has complied with all its commitments, its negotiating team said in its own statement, and is holding conversations with local communities at their request.

“The decisions unilaterally taken by the ELN are their complete responsibility, and they generate unnecessary crisis that prolongs the armed confrontation and the violence that communities suffer, as well as weakening society’s confidence in (the rebels’) will for peace,” the government delegation said in a statement early on Wednesday.

The ELN will respond with force to any break in a recently-extended ceasefire with the government, leader Antonio Garcia told Reuters this week.

The group, founded in 1964 by radical Catholic priests, has 5,800 members, including some 3,000 combatants, and agreed after an earlier cycle in the talks to end kidnapping for ransom.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Luis Jaime Acosta; editing by Philippa Fletcher)