The ELN on Tuesday rejected prosecution claims that Colombia’s last-standing guerrilla group is forcing children to join their rebel ranks.
The guerrillas’ chief peace negotiator, “Pablo Beltran” responded to an arrest warrant issued against him after the Prosecutor General’s Office claimed that the guerrillas continue to recruit child soldiers.
While not denying the group allows minors to enter the group, the ELN chief denied his group was forcing minors to join.
“Here nobody is recruited or kept against their will. Whoever wants to enter, enters; the ones who wants to leave, leave,” Beltran told Blu Radio on Tuesday.
The ELN claims go directly against those made by Prosecutor General Nestor Martinez who accused the group of having recruited children as young as eight years old.
As is common, the chief prosecutor failed to provide evidence or even indicate when the ELN recruited the 121 minors, and whether these minors would be under 15, which would make their recruitment a war crime.
The guerrillas and the authorities have been bickering as peace talks with the group that formed in 1964 are on hold.
At least two of the guerrilla leaders accused of child recruitment are currently in Havana waiting for President Ivan Duque’s decision on whether he wants to continue peace talks or return to war.
The president said in his inaugural speech last week that he would take 30 days to talk to the United Nations, sponsor countries of the peace talks and the Catholic Church before making a decision.
The ELN talks began under the leadership of former President Juan Manuel Santos last year, but have been criticized by Duque and his hard-right Democratic Center party ahead of the elections in May and June.
Social organizations and think tanks have advised against ending the talks, claiming this would be a step back and the resumption of a war that will not be won in the coming years exactly how it wasn’t won in previous decades.