Colombia’s second largest rebel group, the ELN, on Wednesday demanded mining rights for the rural poor in exchange for the Canadian mining executive currently being held hostage.
The rebels said the captive Jernoc Wobert, a Canadian geologist and vice-CEO of the exploration branch of the Braeval mining company, could be released through a “non-military” solution to the problem of mining titles in north Colombia.
“The multinational mining [company] Braeval, headquartered in Toronto, Canada, should search for a non-military solution to the detention of their vice president of explorations, the geologist [Jernoc] Wobert. Once the company shows its willingness to negotiate, it should return the Mining Titles it wheedled from the traditional mining communities,” the ELN said.
However, Clara Rojas, the president of the anti-kidnapping NGO Pais Libre, told Colombia Reports that the ELN’s continued possession of the Canadian could be related to the possibility of exploratory peace talks with the government.
“It is difficult to know exactly what a group like the ELN is thinking. Nevertheless, one possibility is that they are trying to pressure the government to let them participate in the peace negotiations. Of course, kidnapping is not the way forward, for that reason Pais Libre has asked for his immediate release through the International Red Cross.”
The ELN and the Colombian government have both expressed interest in initiating exploratory peace talks. On Tuesday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that he hoped to negotiate with the rebels “sooner than later.” Meanwhile, the ELN’s top commander, alias “Gabino,” said he wanted “peace without surrender.”
In addition, Camilo Gonzalez, president of the Colombian conflict-monitoring NGO Indepaz, told Colombia Reports that the ELN could currently be in the process of forming alliances with the larger rebel group FARC, in order to strengthen its position before initiating talks with the government.
“I think there has been a process of convergence between the FARC and the ELN, above all in the zones where the ELN has a presence, like Arauca, Antioquia, Casanare and the Pacific coast of Nariño, where they have twice the influence. On the one hand they are military alliances, but on the other hand it is an approach that could mean something in the context of the Havana accords or parallel negotiations with the ELN,” Gonalez said.
Jernoc Wobert was kidnapped by the ELN rebels on January 18, in northern Colombia’s Bolivar department.
- Interview with Clara Rojas, president of Fundacion Pais Libre
- Interview with Camilo Gonzalez, president of Indepaz.
- ELN Statement (official ELN homepage)