Colombia’s interim prosecutor general announced Wednesday he would file 16,000 war crime charges against the leaders of the ELN while negotiators are trying to agree to formal peace talks.
The announced charges implicate five top commanders of Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group that has been fighting the state since 1964 and is set to begin peace talks with the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos.
According to interim Prosecutor General Jorge Perdomo, the charges are related to “femicide or the assassination of women, forced recruitment, kidnapping, homicide, gender violence, forced displacement, [and] the use of illegal means and methods of war.”
While having lifted the international search warrant of the five ELN chiefs ahead of possible peace talks, the prosecution has maintained domestic arrest warrants for the guerrillas’ Central Command.
The 15,896 war crime charges further increase the pressure on the ELN leadership, which has had difficulty formalizing peace talks with the government since they were first announced in June 2014, days ahead of presidential elections.
The government and ELN announced they have reached an agreement on the formalization of talks in March, but have yet to agree on a start date for these talks.
Following the March announcement, the Santos administration demanded the ELN ban kidnapping before allowing the talks to formalize.
Kidnapping has long been one of the ELN’s illegal means to finance the guerrilla group’s half-a-century war against the state.
In a response, the rebels refused and claimed the president was trying to impose conditions never agreed by negotiators.
If the ELN and government come to a peace agreement, the brought charges will likely be included in a transitional justice deal, which in past negotiations with illegal armed groups included reduced sentences and amnesty.
If the warring parties are not able to reach an agreement, the ELN leadership would be held responsible before civilian courts.