Colombia’s ELN rebels will adopt a defensive strategy during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the guerrilla group’s leadership, which urged a bilateral ceasefire.
In an interview with Caracol Radio, former peace negotiator “Pablo Beltran,” a member of the guerrilla group’s Central Command, said that following the one-month ceasefire that ended Thursday, the group “will not have attack plans, but defense plans.”
Beltran called on the United Nations and Pope Francis to lobby a bilateral ceasefire with the Colombian government, trying to take advantage of the government’s refusal to end attacks on the rebels during the April ceasefire as requested by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.
We are willing to agree on a bilateral cessation with the government, however difficult it may be, we may not abandon the path of a political solution.
President Ivan Duque’s Peace Commissioner, Miguel Ceballos, showed no interest in a bilateral ceasefire.
Duque last week signed a decree that allows members of illegal armed group, including the ELN, to surrender to justice and be allowed to take part in a reintegration program.
It is unclear why any member would want to surrender to justice and be sent to prison in the middle of an outbreak of the virus in the country’s prison system.
To demonstrate the allegedly instant success of the revived individual demobilization plan, Ceballos last week claimed that 20 ELN guerrillas had demobilized in the southwestern Cauca province.
Ceballos predecessor, Luis Carlos Restrepo, has been on the run from justice for years because he faked the demobilization of a guerrilla unit.
The ELN leader seemed little impressed and stressed that surrender was not an option and that the guerrillas seek to continue peace talks that were suspended when President Ivan Duque took office in August 2018.
“The ELN is a political organization that has tried to make peace with different governments over three decades. We will not be demotivated to seek a political solution, but there will be no surrender,” said Beltran.
The ELN chief seemed to imply he is seeking a bilateral ceasefire for the remainder of the Duque administration and resume peace talks with the next administration after 2022.