Colombia’s second largest rebel group, the ELN, on Monday offered to negotiate with individual army commanders to establish war-free zones and other mechanisms to avoid armed conflict ahead of peace talks with the government.
In a letter to the members of the armed forces published on the ELN’s website, the guerrilla group made a number of proposals in which it asked military commanders to seek agreement with local rebel commanders, ignoring the military chain of command.
“Neither you who confront us in our territories nor others in the Armed Forces are our true enemies,” said the ELN that has been fighting the Colombian state since 1964.
“All ELN unit are willing to enter into a relationship with officers and non-commissioned officers of the Armed Forces that allow making agreements to avoid direct confrontation and [favor] the protection of the population,” rebel leader Nicolas Rodriguez, a.k.a. “Gabino” said.
The ELN chief made a number of proposals for military commanders and soldiers to come to an agreements with the rebels which include a war-free zone around military compounds.
“If a battalion or a high-mountain military base and our forces agree to a set area through which [members of the military] can move, we can commit ourselves to not engage in armed combat,” said Gabino.
The rebel leader also urged commanders not to repress or intimidate the civilian population for information on rebel positions, and to refrain from setting up camp inside schools or villages to avoid putting the civilian population in danger.
Gabino vowed that the rebels would respect the confidentiality of commanders who decide to go against orders and avoid confrontations with the rebels.
The ELN and the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos announced preliminary peace talks in June last year but have since failed to agree an an agenda for formal peace talks.