Peace talks between Colombia’s government and last-standing guerrilla group, the ELN, resumed in Cuba on Thursday.
Both delegations sent their negotiators to the Cuban capital, Havana, to put an end to the state’s 54-year war with the rebel faction, after more than a year of talks in Ecuador.
“This is a message for the community; we are making the necessary efforts to move forward with the ELN and hopefully we can negotiate the framework for a ceasefire for the next government to complete,” President Juan Manuel Santos said Wednesday from the German capital, Berlin.
Both the state and the ELN confirmed that at the top of the peace agenda is to establish the aforementioned bilateral ceasefire, with hopes it can be achieved ahead of the May 27 presidential elections.
“The objective and the mission we have from here to May 25, before the first presidential electoral round is held, is to try to reach a concrete agreement on a ceasefire,” affirmed government negotiator Jose Noe Rios.
International community urges results
Ambassadors from Europe and Cuba urged the Colombian government and the ELN to make “substantial” progress in the talks that could be complicated once a new government takes office in August.
While this will be the fifth round of dialogues between the two warring parties since negotiations first kicked off in 2014, Rios claimed that “this cycle is not just any other cycle” but rather the “definitive” one that will see the end to the more than half-century war.
Peace negotiations hit a roadblock when previous guarantor of talks, Ecuador, pulled out of its hosting obligations after a spate of violence along the shared border of the two countries.
Talks then moved to Cuba, where the Santos-led government previously organized a peace deal with the former FARC guerrilla organisation in 2016.
However, a host of irregularities and slow procedures have threatened to de-rail that peace process entirely, a process both the state and the ELN would want to avoid.
Furthermore, there is an air of uncertainty surrounding the impending dialogues with the threat of the next government being hostile to the peace process. Both the current government and the ELN have stressed their desire to make as much progress as quickly as possible.
ELN ‘willing to move quickly’
“In the ELN there is a willingness to move quickly until this government is over and from there the delegation will wait expectantly for the next government to give continuity to the process we are developing,” said ELN negotiator Juan Carlos Cuellar.
“I will not be able to sign the agreement,” said the outgoing president for his part. “But I hope to leave the next president with a paved path in the right direction.”
Around 8.5 million Colombians have been victimized by the bloody conflict, with more than 265,000 people believed to be killed while another 80,000 are missing and presumed dead.