Colombia govt suspends talks with ELN until after hostage release

ELN guerrillas (Image credit: YouTube)

Colombia’s government has suspended peace talks with the ELN guerrilla group, claiming the rebels did not meet the condition to release a former congressman before the beginning of the talks.

The mutual bickering over when former congressmen Odin Sanchez is supposed to be released had already forced the suspension of the inauguration of the talks that had been scheduled for Thursday last week.

Santos suspends inauguration of talks with Colombia’s ELN rebels

According to the ELN, the deal was the guerrillas released two hostages ahead of the talks, which they did, and were supposed to release Sanchez and other hostages once the talks had begun.

But according to the government, no talks with the Marxists rebels will take place until the former congressman, held hostage by the guerrillas since April, is released.

“The issue with the ELN is simple: Until I haven’t seen Odin Sanchez free, safe and sound, there will be no meeting.

President Juan Manuel Santos

The government’s chief negotiator said last week that the actual negotiations, scheduled for Thursday, could still proceed because the release operation had already begun.

ELN has begun hostage release operation: Colombia government negotiator

But on Monday, the Red Cross denied such operation was taking place.

“There is no ongoing operating at this moment,” the humanitarian organization generally in charge of hostage release operations said.

The Archbishop of Cali, Monsignor Dario de Jesus Monsalve, did say last week that the protocol for the release operation had been put in place, which would allow the release of Sanchez within 48 hours.

The guerrillas’ failure to timely release their hostage is the last of many incidents that have marked the mutual efforts to make peace 52 years after the formation of the ELN.

The initial announcement of talks was at the same time the first incident as it was made only five days ahead of the 2014 presidential elections. Consequently, Santos was accused of timing the announcement for electoral purposes.

It then took a year and a half for both parties to agree to proceed to a formal phase amid mutual military attacks and bickering about the other side’s lack of commitment to peace.

The mere setting of the date of the talks then took another five months after the president demanded the release of ELN hostages, a demand the ELN initially considered undue.

After numerous accusations back and forth about the opposite party’s goodwill, the government and ELN finally announced Thursday’s inauguration on October 10, under the condition that the rebels release Sanchez.

This week, both sides announced their negotiation teams and in Ecuador began the preparation of the ceremony where dozens of journalists flew to Quito to report on the beginning of the talks.

However, until Sanchez is in the hands of the Red Cross, no talks will be inaugurated and expectations that the negotiations will amount to an actual peace deal remain low.

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