Colombia’s government has said it is willing to a agree to a bilateral ceasefire with the ELN rebel group, but only if the guerrillas end, among others, extortion and kidnapping activities.
Citing Pope Francis as saying “unity prevails over conflict,” Colombia’s Catholic Church called on both parties to agree to a ceasefire ahead of the religious leader’ visit to the South American country in September.
We appeal for a ceasefire and the bilateral cessation of hostilities; that it may represent an expression of your wish and of that of the Colombian people to receive the Holy Father with welcome for him as a person and for his message.
Colombia’s Catholic Church
In a response, the government’s chief negotiator in Quito said in a letter that the government will agree on a ceasefire, but only if the guerrillas also end hostilities that affect the civilian population or public infrastructure.
What matters for the government is that they end kidnapping, extortion, hostage-taking, but also the recruitment of minors; and the attacks on infrastructure and oil pipelines, which are assets protected by international humanitarian law.
Government chief negotiator Luis Carlos Restrepo
The ELN has long called for a bilateral ceasefire, but has refused to end, for example, its kidnapping practices ahead of a cessation of hostilities.
However, following the church’s request and the government negotiator’s response, the more than 50-year-old guerrilla group said it “welcomed” Restrepo’s willingness “to leave behind a policy sustained for five years to ‘talk in the midst of war’.”
We hope to soon agree on the bilateral ceasefire, based on the important current coincidences of both sides, aware that this ceasefire will bring relief to many compatriots and create a better climate for the participation of society in the peace process.
In response, Restrepo made it clear to both the ELN and the public that the ELN will first have to explicitly agree with the government-imposed conditions to end all hostilities.
No extorsion, no asesinatos de civiles no combatientes, no bombas.La paz la buscaremos con paciencia con el ELN pero no a cualquier costo.
— Juan Camilo Restrepo (@RestrepoJCamilo) June 25, 2017
While the negotiations have proceeded, the ELN’s ongoing violence and admitted incursion in territory formerly under control of the now-demobilizing FARC guerrilla group has fueled mistrust on the part of the government.
Due to the rebels’ close links with the Catholic faith, the visit of Pope Francis has been seen as an opportunity to work towards a ceasefire.
If such an agreement is reach, this would mean that the last original illegal actor of Colombia’s 53-year-old armed conflict will also effectively leave the battlefield while negotiations about their future continue.