The framework for emerging peace talks with the ELN rebel group, Colombia’s second largest, will resemble those put in place for ongoing negotiations with the FARC, its largest, according to a government official involved in preliminary discussions with the rebels.
Guaranteeing recognition and reconciliation for victims would be the central focus of any eventual formal talks, said former Inspector General Jaime Bernal Cuellar, in an interview with the national El Tiempo newspaper. Cuellar, a key figure in earlier attempts at peace negotiations with the ELN, has been treating with the rebels on behalf of the government since at least January, when pre-talks discussions were initiated.
“The victims are the common denominator and, from there, it must meet international standards of truth, justice, reparation, and non-repetition,” said Cuellar, echoing some of the main thematic points from the government’s ongoing negotiations with the FARC in Havana, Cuba.
Like the FARC negotiations, which began in November 2012, the ELN talks would not consider the possibility of impunity for the guerrillas, said Cuellar.
“This should be absolutely clear: this is not to absolve or forgive the rebels for crimes; one thing is the declaration of criminal liability through conviction, and quite another, the penalty to be imposed, which may be exclusive or non-freedom,” he said. “In other words, there must be determination of criminal responsibility for certain crimes and certain members of these groups.”
The announcement of the ELN negotiations was made by the government just days before last Sunday’s presidential elections — though the parties had been dialoguing since January — and came as the FARC talks have produced historic progress, with agreements signed on three of six agenda items and the FARC’s unprecedented acknowledgement of its own role as victimizer in the armed conflict.
Past of Failed Peace Talks
|“The victims are the common denominator and, from there, it must meet international standards of truth, justice, reparation, and non-repetition,”|
Previous attempts at peace talks with ELN failed, amid accusations that the rebels were not serious about coming to an agreement. Cuellar himself participated in the most recent major attempt to bring the rebels to the table in 1998.
This time around, it was the government that appeared to be stalling. After the ELN freed a Canadian hostage last year in exchange for the start to formal negotiations, no news of any progress was released until just before last week’s presidential run-off, despite calls from the rebels and international groups for the government to open a dialogue channel.
In an exclusive interview with Reuters in 2012, ELN leader Nicolas Rodriguez, alias “Gabino,” questioned 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,” Gabino told the wire service in what is believed to be his first interview in about five years.
During the same interview, Gabino said the ELN would not put an end to its kidnapping and extortion activities or its ongoing offensive against foreign oil and mining infrastructure.
While some within Colombia criticized the perceived politically-motivated timing of the ELN talks announcement, the government of Juan Manuel Santos has already received international praise and support for the talks.
The Organization of American States was one of the first international bodies to congratulate Colombia on its emerging peace process, and Brazil, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Uruguay, and Ecuador have all offered to host any eventual negotiations.
The European Union (EU) joined in citing Colombia as one of the EU’s “key partners in Latin America” adding that the EU will continue to support Santos “in the face of deepening political and economic relations with Colombia.”
In a country that has been marred in internal conflict for the past half-century, Cuellar says the conditions are right for a negotiated settlement with the ELN.
“I am convinced that peace, with the support of the Colombian people, is possible and is the last chance that illegal armed groups to agree with the state, because Colombians are already weary of war and the eyes of the world are on the process.”
- Jaime Bernal Cuellar reveals first details of talks with the ELN (El Tiempo)
- ELN confirms that the government is talking with them (El Universal)
- Exclusive: Colombia’s ELN rebels offer peace talks, refuse ceasefire first (Reuters)
- “I govern with the greatest respect for my political opponents” Santos (Pulzo)
- Edición N.429 (Voces)