Colombia’s peace commissioner said Wednesday that the government is considering steps that would block the possibility of resuming peace talks with the country’s ELN guerrillas.
Peace commissioner Miguel Ceballos told press in Bogota that the National Security Council would meet in a month and hinted that it could decide to suspend the group’s political status and effectively make peace talks illegal.
President Ivan Duque’s top peace official made the statement after the guerrillas claimed responsibility for the detention of the crew of a money transport helicopter that was shot down in guerrilla territory in northeast Colombia.
According to Ceballos, “the clock of peace is ticking.”
The ELN has to make an urgent ethical and political decision. It has to define whether it really is a group that wants to lay down its arms and that wants social transformations in Colombia to take place without violence.
Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos
At the request of Duque, Congress in December amended a public order law to allow the National Security Council to evaluate the political status of illegal armed groups every six months.
The 54-year-old ELN is the only illegal armed group that has had this status since the law came into being in 1997. Other illegal armed groups are considered criminal organizations.
Led by far-right House Representative Alvaro Hernan Prada, the president’s Democratic Center (CD) party tried to further restrict the government’s ability to hold peace talks with the ELN and execute an ongoing peace process with demobilized guerrilla group FARC.
But almost all of the initiatives of Prada, who is investigated by the Supreme Court for allegedly tampering witnesses linking former President Alvaro Uribe to far-right death squads, were struck down.
Ceballos on Wednesday hinted at using the one allowed restriction that would make peace talks legally impossible for at least six months.
Duque suspended the peace talks with the ELN when he took office in December last year and has since repeatedly changed the conditions to resume negotiations.
The ELN has refused to agree to change the conditions agreed with Duque’s predecessor, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos.
Ahead of his election in June, Duque threatened to end the talks and retroactively amend the 2016 peace deal with demobilized guerrilla group FARC, but he has been restricted by his constitutional obligation to seek peace, his failure to form a majority coalition in Congress and international pressure to end the country’s 54-year armed conflict.
The majority of Colombians is in favor of resuming the peace talks with the ELN, according to a poll held in November last year.