In an interview with French press agency AFP, unit commander “Danilo Hernandez” of the “Cimarron Front” active in west Colombia said that “the government imposed the condition to talk while in the midst of [armed] conflict. And if that war implies retentions this will be an issue that would also be discussed on the table.”
When asked why the ELN would continue kidnapping, the unit commander said “it’s a method of financing.”
For decades the guerrillas have depended on illegal activity for financing their armed struggle to the state.
According to authorities, the Cuban revolution-inspired rebels are also engaged in illegal gold mining, extortion and drug trafficking.
The group, formed in 1964, is set to begin peace talks with the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos on February 7, after it complied with the condition to release their most prominent hostage, former Congressmen Odin Sanchez.
However, Sanchez is unlikely to be the last hostage held by the guerrillas with Hernandez indicating that it is “probable” that the guerrilla group will hold other civilians hostage.
As the formal peace negotiations between the two sides are set to begin next week, the issue of kidnapping which has persistently hampered preliminary talks looks likely to remain a point of contention.
If the Santos administration is able to negotiate peace with the ELN, it will have removed the original actors that spurred 52 years of violence.
In this period, Colombia’s armed conflict cost the lives of at least 265,000 Colombians and left 7 million homeless or landless.