Colombia’s government and Marxist-inspired ELN rebels on Monday said that they have reached agreement on a bilateral ceasefire that will begin on October 1.
The confirmation of the ceasefire comes just 48 hours ahead of the visit of Pope Francis to the South American country and marks a suspension of hostilities while negotiating a permanent end of more than 50 years of conflict.
The ELN, which was founded by a group of radical Catholic priests in 1964 took to Twitter to make the historic announcement in a tweet which read, “Yes we could! We thank all of those who backed our efforts to reach this #BilateralCeasefire.”
— ELN Paz (@ELN_Paz) September 4, 2017
The armistice with Colombia’s last active left-wing group, is due to last until January 12 and if respected may be extended.
Negotiations between the two sides regarding the ceasefire had met several stumbling blocks over the last few months mainly due to the rebel groups’ continued engagement in the practices of kidnapping and extortion.
The upcoming visit of the head of the Catholic church however, increased the desire among the rebel leadership to reach an agreement to suspend hostilities.
“We have said that the visit of Pope Francis should be an extra motivation to accelerate the search for agreements, which have been the main target communities that suffer the unfortunate consequences of the conflict,” the group also said on Twitter.
The government in turn reportedly has agreed to improve the conditions of jailed ELN rebels and to boost the security of activist leaders, a growing number of whom have been killed in recent months.
The guerrillas and the government delegation have been negotiating a peace deal in the Ecuadorean capital of Quito since February, three months after a peace process began with what formerly was the country’s largest Marxist guerrilla group, the FARC.
The cease of fire between the warring parties brings about a preliminary end of an armed conflict between the state and leftist guerrilla groups that began in 1964.
This however does not mean an end to political violence in Colombia, as smaller dissident drug-fueled factions of demobilized guerrilla and paramilitary groups continue to be active throughout the country.