In an interview recorded last month, expert Gary Leech said that it makes “no sense to leave the ELN out of [ongoing peace] talks [with FARC]” as the rebels demobilization would only serve to strengthen the ELN, Colombia’s second largest rebel group.
According to Leech, demobilized guerrillas would be inclined to join the ELN rather than face the prospect of an uncertain economic future.
“You may get a situation in which numerous low and even mid rank [FARC] guerrillas go over to the ELN, rather than face unemployment in the civilian world.”
“To demobilize the FARC and leave the ELN active, you may end up strengthening the ELN,” argued the expert.
Although both rebel groups were formed in 1964 by peasants trying to overthrow the national government, they have historically clashed.
In February 2012 however, the two signed a collaboration pact, agreeing to abide by a ceasefire and maintain common economic interests.
Following such an agreement, Leech insists that the rebel groups are working together.
“They are working together in numerous regions now.”
“They are working together in Arauca, in south western Colombia. So these FARC guerrillas and FARC units that are working with the ELN already, if they don’t want to demobilize, they may just join the ELN,” explained the expert.
While rebel group FARC have been involved in peace talks since November, in which only one of a five point agenda has been agreed, the ELN have yet to enter discussions with the government.
Santos however, is reported to have met with a peace commission earlier this week in order to discuss the ELN’s potential role in negotiations.
The head of state had previously insisted that negotiations with the rebel group would be impossible if they were to continue their policy of kidnapping. This was in turn refused by the ELN who demanded that talks take place without conditions or restrictions.
The ELN recently released Canadian hostage Jernoc Wobert in a move that was seen as a positive step towards peace talks. But the recent kidnapping of a police officer may have scuppered such progress.
Rebel group FARC and the government have been involved in peace talks since November in order to seek a negotiated end to the internal conflict.
While an accord has been reached regarding land reform, no agreements have been made on the issue of the FARC’s political participation, drug trafficking, the practicalities of the end of the armed conflict and the rights of the victims.