ELN, Colombia’s second largest rebel group, asked the Colombian government for a permanent, bilateral ceasefire, but failed to offer concessions in return.
Unlike the considerably larger rebel group FARC that agreed to a bilateral ceasefire last week, the ELN is still fighting the Colombian Armed Forces.
However, the ELN leadership has repeatedly said they are ready to enter peace negotiations with the Colombian government in Quito, Ecuador as the warring parties announced earlier this year.
In an unsigned editorial published on the official ELN website, the rebels gave their full support to the peace agreement between the FARC and the government, but warned the government that the ongoing existence of other groups could threaten progress made with the country’s largest rebel group.
“We respect the decisions of the FARC-EP [and] the June 23 agreement and we wish them the best. The bilateral ceasefire is a notable contribution to the political solution of the conflict … Furthermore, there remains a great difficulty for the implementation, given that the confrontation continues in many parts of the country, with the other guerrillas.”
The left-wing rebels have good reasons to enter peace talks as well. The FARC is no longer a fighting force, which means the Colombian state forces can concentrate most of their resources on fighting the ELN and other, younger illegal armed groups.
Given the ELN is a relatively small rebel group, they would stand a slim chance against the 200,000-strong Colombian military.
On Sunday, the ELN posted a message on their website saying a ‘political solution’ would be preferable to the continuation of the armed conflict which has plagued Colombia for more than 50 years. However, the ELN rebels still consider kidnappings of civilians a legit way to bolster their finances.
The government, on the other hand, has stated peace talks will be highly complicated unless the rebels halt all kidnappings of civilians. Meanwhile, a few members of the Colombian congress said on Monday they would support a peace process with the ELN.
The president of the Colombian congress, Luis Fernando Velasco, recently said it is an important step towards peace that the ELN wants to initiate negotiations. However, Velasco stated that any negotiation and ceasefire needs to be “verifiable, with concentration zones so that the rebels can relinquish their arms.”
The left-wing rebel group, with an estimated 2,000 armed combatants, has been fighting the Colombian state since 1964. The ELN is also believed to have a civilian support network of thousands, which assists the rebels with intelligence and logistics.