Colombia’s government has warned the Marxist-inspired ELN guerrillas that current negotiations are their “last chance” amid a stalemate on the issue of a bilateral ceasefire.
Government chief negotiator Juan Camilo Restrepo warned the rebels that time is running out and that a ceasefire will not be agreed upon until a cessation of hostilities can be properly verified ahead of the commencement of the next cycle of negotiations on July 24 in Quito, Ecuador.
“Let it be clear, there will be no ceasefire until the ELN accepts a verifiable cessation of hostilities,” said Restrepo through his Twitter account.
Que quede en claro : no habrá cese al fuego bilateral mientras el ELN no acepte un cese de hostilidades verificable.
— Juan Camilo Restrepo (@RestrepoJCamilo) July 8, 2017
Restrepo acknowledged that a ceasefire will be “the central theme” of the next cycle as he urged the ELN to be “pragmatic” and agree to a “verifiable” truce so that real progress can be made, in an interview with news website CM&.
“I hope pragmatism comes to the ELN to understand that this is the last chance they have to reach peace,” said Restrepo.
The chief negotiator confirmed that the government has made an offer to the ELN regarding a ceasefire with the condition of “a formal, resounding, verifiable and clear commitment to cease hostilities with civil society,” which includes renouncing kidnappings, recruiting minors, the planting of anti-personnel mines and attacks on infrastructure.
However, he asserts that “while signing a ceasefire, the Colombian Armed Forces and its intelligence forces will continue to repress with vigor and energy, as they have been doing, all the terrorist or criminal activities of the ELN.”
While Restrepo urges the ELN to embrace the idea of a cessation of hostilities, he still remains cautious about it’s capacity to do harm.
Although “the ELN is a third of what the FARC are,” they have “the capacity to do tremendous damage,” he warns, adding that the finances of the armed group “have benefited strongly from the economic mess in Venezuela” because “they have seized full smuggling lines,” as well as maintaining gains from “extortion and illegal mining.”
Both sides are attempting to broker a ceasefire before the visit of Pope Francis to the South American country in September but the continued practices of the ELN such as bombing, kidnapping and extortion have fueled mistrust on the part of the government.
The ELN currently has approximately 1,500 fighters and has been fighting the state since 1964 in a multi-party war that cost the lives of more than 265,000 Colombians.
With the FARC currently going through a demobilization process, successful negotiations with the ELN would see the last-standing original illegal armed actor in the half century long conflict removed.