Colombia’s last standing Marxist-inspired rebel group the ELN on Sunday demanded that the government take action to prevent the ongoing slaughter of community leaders and human rights activists as both sides attempt to negotiate a ceasefire.
As peace negotiations in the Ecuadorean capital of Quito move towards dialogue on a bi-lateral ceasefire, the ELN is adamant that the government must move to protect social leaders who are being regularly assassinated by paramilitary groups across the country.
Through it’s official Twitter account, the rebels called on the government to “stop the killings of leaders of the social movement.”
#PazEs que Cese los asesinatos a líderes y líderesas sociales del movimiento social
— ELN Paz (@ELN_Paz) July 2, 2017
ELN negotiator Pablo Beltran echoed the same sentiments in an interview with Contagio Radio on Monday emphasizing the necessity of halting the slaughter of social leaders so that both parties can successfully negotiate a ceasefire.
“There must be a cease-fire between the armed parties and, at the same time, it must be accompanied by humanitarian actions that reduce the intensity of the conflict and favor the population and communities, ” Beltran said.
The comments of the ELN leadership come amid a security crisis that has seen the murder at least 37 social leaders since December 1 following the signing of a peace deal between Colombia’s government and the country’s largest leftist guerrilla group, the FARC.
As the FARC moved to demobilization camps and began to lay down weapons, paramilitary groups moved into territory it had previously controlled and targeted leftist leaders and human rights activists in a brutal fashion.
The ELN has proposed that both sides work towards achieving a bi-lateral ceasefire ahead of the visit of Pope Francis to the South American country in September.
The government for it’s part has demanded that the ELN end, among others, its continued practices of extortion and kidnapping, which have fueled mistrust by the State representatives of the intentions of the rebels throughout the talks to date.
Both sides agreed last Thursday to set up of a special sub-committee to deal with humanitarian issues with the assassination of community leaders being top priority.
“The humanitarian subcommittee is charged with examining issues such as the ongoing genocide against social leaders , deprivation of liberty, targeted humanitarian demining, and now also undertaking the study of a possible bilateral cessation,” read a briefing statement on the ELN’s website.
While the ELN rebels themselves will have to reconsider their own actions of kidnapping and extortion before progress can be made in terms of a ceasefire, the issue of protection of community leaders is one that must be addressed immediately by the government.
Recognizing the complexity of the threat against the left as the FARC attempt to enter politics in Colombia, the United Nations Security Council has agreed to continue monitoring and verifying Colombia’s peace process for another three-years.
The slaughter of social leaders and several FARC guerrillas’ family members has been carried out primarily by paramilitary groups that formed during and after the demobilization of paramilitary umbrella organization AUC.
The Medellin-based Oficina de Envigado, once formed by slain drug lord and former Congressman Pablo Escobar and with ongoing ties with corrupt elements within the state and the elite, has already said it will kill any guerrilla trying to reintegrate into society.
Other paramilitary groups like the Aguilas Negras, ideologically aligned with former president Alvaro Uribe, have also been accused of threatening and killing victims of land theft and community leaders considered key in a more grass-roots implementation of peace.