Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla group ELN said that it is willing to hold unconditional peace talks, but refuses to end criminal activity before starting negotiations, reported newswire Reuters Monday.
According to Reuters, ELN has agreed to peace talks after five decades of war, but has refused to end its kidnapping, bomb attacks and extortion of foreign oil and mining companies before negotiations start.
“We are open; it’s exactly our proposal, to seek room for open dialogue without conditions and start to discuss the nation’s biggest problems,” said Nicolas Rodriguez, leader of the National Liberation Army (ELN) in a video filmed at a hidden jungle camp in response to questions from Reuters.
Rodriguez’ comments coincide with the recent agreement between Colombia’s government and the largest guerrilla group FARC which have signed an agreement to begin formal peace dialogues and the process to end the armed conflict that has devastated the country since 1964.
The ELN commander better known as “Gabino,” said that the guerrillas would not declare a ceasefire or turn in their weapons prior to any peace discussions. After almost half a century fighting for the Marxist group, 62-year-old Rodriguez doubted the government’s willingness to talk.
“The government has said no! Santos says he has the keys to peace in his pocket, but I think he has lost them because there seems to be no possibility of a serious dialogue,” said Rodriguez in his rare interview.
According to Reuters, the government has declined to comment on the interview.
The ELN, a Marxist guerrilla organization originally influenced by liberation theology, has been fighting government administrations since it was founded in 1964 and is now believed to have approximately 3,000 fighters.
This isn’t the first time the guerrilla group has sought peace, they allegedly held talks in Cuba and Venezuela between 2002 and 2007. According to experts, there was a lack of will from both the government and the ELN to agree on a final peace plan. The organization also called for peace talks “without conditions” with the government in June.
Both the ELN and FARC have increased attacks on infrastructure this year, but unlike the largest guerrilla group in Colombia, Rodriguez denied government claims that the ELN funded its war by means of drug trafficking.
In his exclusive video interview, Rodriguez warned that kidnapping and extortion would continue until a peace agreement was reached and changes were made in the way that foreign companies operated in Colombia.
“If there’s dialogue, there’ll be accords and new ways of exploiting the riches of the country, but if there’s no dialogue and on the contrary they insist on taking the side of capitalist demands, inevitably the fighting will continue,” said Rodriguez.
The ELN commander said that any peace process they held should also include the FARC, but would not be a condition for informal talks with President Juan Manuel Santos‘ conservative government.