Bogota, Aug 3 (EFE).- Colombia’s government and the ELN rebels took two major steps Thursday toward ending their decades-long conflict: initiating a cease-fire and establishing the National Participation Committee (CNP) to include representatives of civil society in negotiations on a final settlement.
Adding to the symbolism was the return to Bogota after 31 years of National Liberation Army (ELN) second-in-command Pablo Beltran, who led the guerrilla negotiating team in multiple rounds of discussions in Cuba and Mexico.
“Today begins a cease-fire with a characteristic that it has a verification mechanism. Both parties have the will to comply,” he said alongside Colombian President Gustavo Petro.
The leftist head of state, himself a veteran of the long-defunct M-19 rebel group, hailed the presence of the ELN “without arms, before the diversity of Colombia, wide and deep, before the Colombian state with which it has waged a war that goes back to the year 1964.”
Earlier this week, the United Nations formally agreed to take part in verifying compliance with the 180-day truce, which bars all offensive military action and any conduct that contravenes International Humanitarian Law.
The government and ELN delegations presided over the installation of the CNP, comprising 81 individuals representing 30 social, economic, and geographical sectors.
The goal of the CNP is to create a mechanism allowing for broad participation in the negotiations so as to address the underlying problems that gave rise to the conflict.
“We have said for decades that a dialogue of two – the government the guerrillas – is insufficient for the problems of Colombia,” the ELN’s Beltran said.
The CNP, whose members include Bruce Mac Master, president of the National Business Association, is set to hold a series of regional and national forums and issue a report on the findings at the start of next year.
Also included is Jose Felix Lafaurie, a cattle baron whose wife, Sen. Maria Fernanda Cabal, belongs to a right-wing opposition party.
“I have faith in Colombia. Today is not its first day of peace, but it is a day of enormous importance to have a real possibility of building a better country,” Lafaurie said during Thursday’s event.
Petro sought to bring figures from the right onboard in hopes of avoiding the pitfalls encountered in the earlier peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
The FARC, at its apex the largest guerrilla army in Latin America, made peace in 2016 with the government of conservative President Juan Manual Santos, but opposition from the right has prevented the accords from being fully implemented.
Bogota and the ELN first began talking in 2005, but the process was suspended in 2018 by rightist President Ivan Duque.
When Petro became Colombia’s president last year, he made the achievement of “total peace” the theme of his administration and talks with the ELN resumed in November.
The government’s chief negotiator, Otty Patiño, said Thursday that the delegates will remain at the table until they “achieve the end of the armed conflict.”
“We are going to combine speed and rigor to reach the final accord,” he said, telling his colleagues: “we need to move quickly.”
Petro has promised a definitive peace treaty by May 2025. EFE ime/dr