Colombia’s last-standing guerrilla group, the ELN, reiterated their request for a bilateral ceasefire on Saturday after conflict monitors registered an intensification of attacks.
In an open letter to the governments of Colombia and the United States, the ELN again asked for a “bilateral and temporary ceasefire… as has been urged by the UN Secretary General, Pope Francis and the UN Security Council, in order to better carry out the humanitarian work required to confront Covid-19.”
Far-right president Ivan Duque rejected the UN Security Council’s demand for a global ceasefire in July, claiming that “our government will never abandon its constitutional duty to confront crime in the entire territory of Colombia. The ELN is a terrorist group that has scourged the country with barbarism for decades.”
In their letter, the ELN proposed to create an “international commission to verify on the ground if the ELN has crops, laboratories, infrastructure or routes for drug trafficking, or if it has businesses with chemical precursors used in the production of cocaine.”
The ELN declared a unilateral ceasefire in April and said it would maintain a defensive stance in May, but stepped up attack from six in August to 11 last month, according to independent conflict monitor CERAC.
This is still considerably less than the 30 attacks registered by CERAC in February.
Duque suspended peace talks with the ELN when he took office in August 2018, but has been unable to prevent the guerrillas’ territorial expansion that followed since then.
The guerrillas’ strongholds are in regions that have historically suffered state neglect. The ELN additionally has tried to strengthen its National Urban War Front, which has been active in Colombia’s cities since 1986.
Duque has been explicit about his disinterest in bartering peace with the guerrillas that carried out their first attack in 1964.
Most conflict analysts have been skeptical about the sincerity of the ELN’s expressed desire to make peace and believe the guerrillas seek to increase their leverage for eventual peace negotiations.