Colombia, ELN rebels 4 steps closer to peace after talks in Caracas

Caracas, Dec 12 (EFE).- The Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas on Monday in Caracas ended the first phase of 21 days of negotiations with the proclamation of four agreements that the parties said they see “as a light of hope” on the road to peace in the Andean nation.

Both delegations, after numerous meetings behind closed doors, signed a joint statement in which they emphasized the “respectful, transparent and cordial” atmosphere that characterized the process, which was relaunched after four-and-a-half years by the Gustavo Petro government and which will resume in Mexico in January 2023.

Although there was no announcement of a ceasefire, an issue that remains to be discussed in the next round of talks, the negotiators confirmed their desire for the process to lead to the emergence of the ELN as a political organization, which will – they hope – bring about the “lessening of violence” in Colombia.

The dialogue was resumed as set forth in the agenda agreed to in 2016 – which foresees the end of the armed conflict, acknowledgment of the victims and implementation of the peace accords – with certain adjustments linked to the “new national and international context” and which “are being drafted.”

Senator Ivan Cepeda, one of the Colombian delegation’s negotiators, said via Twitter that issues like “the rights of women, young people and ethnic peoples” will be included, along with “care of the common home,” without providing further details.

The parties established protocols “with clear rules” so that these would function properly in channeling the support of the international community, especially that of Venezuela, Cuba, Norway, Chile and Mexico as guarantors of the agreement, the latter two nations having recently been incorporated into the effort.

The agreed-upon draft – according to the statement read publicly on Monday – “regulates and empowers” the work of the negotiation process, the “principles and procedures” of which were also defined, although it did not provide further information on that subject, and it also includes the presence of the United Nations and the Catholic Church as accompanying institutions.

In earlier declarations, the negotiators had reported inviting Brazil to be a guarantor nation, along with Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Spain, as well as asking the United States to send a delegate to the talks, an offer to which Washington has not yet responded.

The ELN and the government “acknowledge the serious situation of violence” in the provinces of Valle del Cauca and Choco and thus, starting in January 2023, they will implement humanitarian relief efforts in those areas, according to one of the four accords dealing with how to handle emergency situations.

The parties also warned of a “serious humanitarian situation existing in the prisons” of Colombia and, in that regard, they agreed to provide an “emergency” response for “a group of ELN political prisoners” without mentioning how many people that includes or who might benefit from that attention or in what way.

Given these gaps in the information provided on Monday, the parties said that a plan is under development regarding communications and instruction that seeks “to strengthen and expand the support and participation of Colombian society and the international community in the dialogue process,” once again without providing additional details on that point.

Regarding the achievements reached, Bogota and the ELN remarked on the fact that – between Aug. 7, 2022, and today – “in a clear demonstration of its commitment to peace in Colombia” the ELN has released 20 people, including civilians and members of the public safety forces, some of whom were kidnapped by the guerrillas after the start of the talks.

The government and the rebels, who have been accustomed to viewing one another as enemies for almost 60 years, believe that the agreements reached up to now and the bilateral willingness to move forward “increase the hope of Colombia and the region for a comprehensive and definitive peace.”

EFE hp/sb/bp

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