Bogota, Dec 19 (EFE).- Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group, which is currently in peace talks with President Gustavo Petro’s administration, said Monday it will observe a unilateral holiday cease-fire that will run from Dec. 24 to Jan. 2.
“The National Liberation Army remains committed to contributing to an atmosphere of peace during Christmas and New Year’s and therefore has declared a unilateral cease-fire,” the ELN said in a brief communique.
This latest cease-fire, which is similar to others that group has declared during other peace processes, will begin at 6 am on Dec. 24, and end at 6 am on Jan. 2, the guerrillas said.
That statement, delivered via one of the ELN’s channels, added that the truce only applies to Colombia’s armed forces and police and that the rebels reserve the right to defend themselves if attacked.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says the ELN remains mired in conflict with a neo-paramilitary group and drug cartel – the Gaitanist Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or Clan del Golfo – particularly in the Andean nation’s Pacific region.
Last week, the guerrillas even declared an “armed strike” – an action that halts all traffic in a particular area and effectively confines inhabitants to their homes – in the northwestern San Juan region, Choco department, due to the Clan del Golfo’s encroachment into that ELN-controlled territory.
“Real peace requires more than just words,” said “Claudia Isabel M,” the ELN guerrilla who read the group’s video communique.
Flanked by six other armed ELN combatants, she urged government forces to attack the paramilitary groups that “continue to move freely throughout the entire national territory.”
Colombia’s government, for its part, hailed the ELN’s announcement and also urged other irregular armed groups to suspend their hostilities as well.
“The ELN has heard the community which supports total peace and is calling for a de-escalation of the conflict in different territories of the republic,” Interior Minister Alfonso Prada said in a statement after a Monday security council meeting.
The ELN also has been in conflict since the start of the year in the northeastern Colombian department of Arauca with dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which demobilized as part of a 2016 peace deal with the government of that time.
More than 300 people have been killed in that fighting, making Arauca the Andean nation’s most violent region in 2022.
The ELN has declared similar cease-fires as a goodwill gesture during other peace processes, most recently one that lasted from Oct. 1, 2017, to January 2018.
However, peace talks broke down entirely under Petro’s predecessor, rightist Ivan Duque, after a Jan. 17, 2019, ELN car-bomb attack on a police academy in Bogota left more than a score of cadets dead.
A new effort at peace was launched though following the Aug. 7 inauguration of Petro, Colombia’s first leftist president, with delegations from both sides returning to the negotiating table in recent weeks in Caracas.
The first round of negotiations ended on Dec. 12 in Venezuela’s capital with a joint declaration that made no mention of cease-fires but did indicate that the guerrilla group would start allowing some “humanitarian relief processes” as of January in Valle del Cauca in Colombia’s southwest and in Choco.
Colombia’s government, meanwhile, promised to improve conditions for inmates in the country’s prisons, including those housing jailed ELN members.
The next round of negotiations will take place in late January in Mexico. EFE