Colombia’s last standing rebel group ELN will extend its ceasefire if talks with the government continue to progress, the Marxist guerrillas said Monday.
“We are willing to agree a new ceasefire once we have jointly evaluated at the negotiating table the progress, confidence and results of the current one,” the group said in a letter to the United Nations published on Twitter.
The letter addressed the head of the UN verification Mission in Colombia, Jean Arnault and further agreement with the government would see the ceasefire that began on October 1 extended beyond the initial January 9 deadline.
Compartimos la carta en la que el Cdte Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, por el Comando Central del ELN responde a la solicitud de Jean Arnault Jefe de la @MisionONUCol de informar sobre la posible extensión del Mandato de la Misión de Verificación de la ONU al Cese al Fuego Bilateral pic.twitter.com/ucE1sGwfzr
— ELN Paz (@ELN_Paz) December 18, 2017
Observers verified 27 violations of the ceasefire over the past couple of months but UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres last week urged the ELN and the government to work towards an extension claiming that “violence has diminished and the humanitarian situation has improved.”
While peace negotiations are ongoing between the two sides in the Ecuadorean capital of Quito, the new head of the Armed Forces General Alberto Mejia clarified that should an extension not be agreed, the ELN will be prioritized as a military target again.
“January 9 ends the temporary national bilateral suspension with the ELN and we do not know what will happen in that negotiation. If we are commanded that there is no ceasefire, the ELN will be the priority. If the president orders that the bilateral ceasefire be extended, that priority will be dissidence. We are very clear about the order of priorities,” said the general to El Tiempo newspaper.
The talks between the state and the ELN began in February, shortly after the initiation of a peace process with the much larger FARC guerrilla group.
The ceasefire by the radical group founded by Catholic priests in 1964 aims to create favorable conditions so that tangible progress can be made at the negotiating table.
It remains delicate however, particularly in the provinces of Nariño and Choco where multiple illegal armed groups are vying for control over important coca-growing territory, the base ingredient for cocaine.
The ELN has gotten caught up in several clashes with these groups that have jeopardized the security of the civilian population contrary to the terms of the agreement.