Colombian government and ELN begin second round of peace talks in Mexico

In this round, the negotiating parties seek to reach an agreement on the possibility of establishing a bilateral ceasefire

February 14, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
The Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) began the second round of peace talks on February 13, in Mexico. Photo: High Commissioner for Peace of the Colombian government/Twitter

The Colombian government and the leftist guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), began the second round of peace talks on Monday, February 13, in Mexico City, Mexico, with the purpose of achieving true and lasting peace in the country. In this round, the negotiating parties seek to reach an agreement on the participation of civil society groups in the negotiation process and the possibility of establishing a bilateral ceasefire after the confusion over the same in early January.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, who inaugurated the ceremony of the talks, said Mexico would “contribute everything in its power to ensure that the negotiations succeed and peace advances.” Mexico is one of the guarantor nations for these talks, along with Norway, Cuba, Venezuela, Chile, and Brazil.

With regard to a bilateral ceasefire, Otty Patiño, the head of the government delegation, emphasized on the need to reinterpret it. “It is up to us, as this process, as a delegation, to reinterpret the ceasefire and not see it only as a decrease in armed confrontations, but fundamentally as a decrease in hostilities against the civilian population and illegal activities that cause damage and violence,” Patiño explained. “The idea is to agree on permanent relief and not temporary truces,” he added.

For his part, Pablo Beltrán, the head of the ELN delegation, expressed the willingness of the group to discuss the conditions for “a bilateral, temporary, and national ceasefire.” Beltrán stressed that this dialogue round might not “produce revolutionary results” or “lead to an automatic demobilization of the rebels.” “Our agenda seeks transformations that make it possible to put an end to the armed conflict and achieve a comprehensive and lasting peace. The economy and the state must be placed at the service of society. This is the main change for which we fight so that there is peace with justice,” he added.

The first round of talks was held in the Venezuelan capital Caracas, between November 21 and December 12, 2022. During the first round, the government and the ELN reached agreements on the safe return of the Embera Indigenous people to their lands in Murindó municipality in the Antioquia department. The community had been displaced due to violence and internal conflict between the Colombian armed forces and the ELN combatants. Both sides also reached an agreement for humanitarian relief measures in Bajo Calima in the Valle del Cauca department, and Medio San Juan in the Chocó department.

These talks are a crucial part of the goal of President Gustavo Petro to bring “total peace” to the country after six decades of internal armed conflict, which has killed around 450,000 people and displaced over 8 million.

From his first day in office, Petro promoted peace negotiations with all illegal paramilitary and drug-trafficking groups willing to surrender to justice. He also pledged to fully implement the Havana peace agreements, signed in 2016, with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerilla group.

In addition to the ELN, the Petro government has also begun peace talks with four other irregular armed groups, including the dissident groups of the demobilized FARC: the Estado Mayor Central, the Segunda Marquetalia; and the drug cartels Clan del Golfo and Los Pachencas. Since January 1, the government has also begun observing a bilateral truce with them, which will be in force until June 30, and could be extended on the basis of the progress of the peace negotiations.

According to Colombian human rights organization the Institute of Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ), so far, at least 23 irregular armed groups operating in the country have expressed their will to lay down arms, engage in dialogue and accept legal benefits in exchange for peace.

The ELN is Colombia’s largest active guerilla group. It has around 2,400 combatants, present in 22 out of the 32 departments.

The Petro government has ensured that the talks take into consideration advice and guidance of the international community. Several countries such as Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and Spain, and the representatives of the Catholic Church and the UN Verification Mission to Colombia are participating in these discussions. Additionally, the government has also guaranteed the full participation of the armed forces in the process. The second round has observers from the Colombian National Police and Military Forces for the first time. The government has said the presence of countries and its national institutions and forces indicates the talks are being held in full trust and with broad national and international support and consensus to achieve a long lasting, stable and secure peace agreement in Colombia.