Conflicts & War

ELN says peace talks with Colombian gov’t have reached crisis point

Bogota, May 15 (EFE).- The National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group said Monday that peace talks with the Colombian government in Cuba have reached a crisis point and that the negotiations cannot be subject to the whims of President Gustavo Petro.

The leftist head of state’s administration, however, acted quickly in a bid to repair the damage, reaffirming in a statement the legitimacy of the rebel delegation now gathered in Havana.

“The negotiating table is in crisis and the government must provide clarity to clear the road to peace and so we can speak with coherent language to the country and the world,” the ELN’s Central Command said in a statement Monday morning.

The guerrilla group was referring to remarks last week by Petro at a meeting with admirals and generals of Colombia’s armed forces, in which he cast doubt on the leadership of the ELN’s commanders.

“Are they in charge? Are they really in charge? Today’s ELN has a different logic. They try to adapt to it, but the logic is different, the fronts are autonomous … illicit economies are their fundamental purpose,” Petro said at the meeting.

The ELN fired back in a statement.

“The president’s statements publicly question our delegation … so the government must publicly clarify whether (the ELN delegates in the third round of talks in Havana constitute) a valid interlocutor to move the peace process with the government forward,” the guerrilla group said.

It added that the ELN is a “national organization with a national policy, legal framework, organizational doctrine, defined hierarchies, where all of its structures are led by a National Directorate and a democratically elected Central Command.”

The ELN also criticized Petro’s remarks about “illicit economies,” saying they provide backing for the United States’ “imperialist low-intensity war doctrine.”

Seeking to avert a total breakdown in the talks, Petro’s administration released its own statement Friday recognizing “the existence of political negotiations and dialogues with the ELN” and saying the government “is serious and coherent with the constant plea from the communities to end the violence in their territories.”

“The statements in recent days are a call to both sides to be responsible with the dynamics of the armed conflict and what’s happening in the day-to-day life in the territories,” the president’s office said.

And Petro’s administration added that it wants to “continue advancing” to respond to the communities’ demands and establish as cornerstones in the process “a cessation of hostilities involving all sides in the conflict, measures of protection for the population and the participation of civil society.”

Petro’s administration resumed formal peace talks with the ELN last November, initially meeting with representatives of the rebel group in Venezuela and later in Mexico for the second round.

But different setbacks have occurred along the way.

The first came after the government on Dec. 31 announced a bilateral cease-fire that had not been worked out at the negotiating table, prompting the ELN to issue a statement almost immediately denying that any such agreement had been reached.

Later, the talks hit a new roadblock in March after guerrillas killed 10 soldiers in an ambush in El Carmen, a municipality in the northern department of Norte de Santander. EFE


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