Colombia’s second largest rebel group said Tuesday — half a year after announcing preliminary peace talks with the government — that they are willing to take the talks a step further and aim for a political solution to 50 years of war.
In a statement published on their website, ELN bosses Nicolas Bautista, a.k.a. ” Gabino,” and Israel Ramirez, a.k.a. “Pablo Beltran” said that “we have a Plan A which is to give the political solution an impulse with our heart and soul. But we also have a Plan B which is thinking this will not work and prepare for anything.”
The administration of President Juan Manuel Santos announced the exploratory peace talks with the ELN in June last year — five days before the head of state successfully aimed for reelection — but has since failed to formalize these talks or announce any progress.
Peace talks with the FARC, Colombia’s largest rebel group, have been ongoing since November 2012.
Ever since the initial announcement, the ELN has stressed the complexity of the talks and their lack of confidence in the government’s intentions.
However, on Wednesday the rebel leadership said that “the government says it wants a political way out. [Slain conservative politician] Alvaro Gomez said that you need to believe people, so we’re going to believe the government to see if this time it does.”
Hours before, the rebels sent out a press statement in which they said to be willing to eventually lay down their weapons.
According to the statement, the rebels have attended the talks “to test the true will of the Colombian State” which the rebels said to continue to do.
“If after this test we conclude that the weapons are no longer necessary, we would have the disposition to stop using them,” said the ELN.
Contrary to the rebels’ apparent will to continue fighting their 50-year-long war, the ELN has consistently urged a bilateral ceasefire during talks, a condition rejected by the government amid fears that either the FARC or ELN could use a military ceasefire to regroup.
However, in a statement on Tuesday, the president said he will reconsider his rejection to cease fire until after a peace deal and said he would ask the military to cease offensives “in due time.”
According to Santos, “the conditions are different” as the FARC declared a unilateral ceasefire in December and the ELN allegedly had decided to formalize the talks.
Gabino insisted that “the Santos government has the choice to persist in its policy of war and peace, or dare to take the true road to peace for all Colombians,” further pushing the Santos government to agree to a bilateral ceasefire.
The ELN was formed in 1964 and is mostly active in Colombia’s northeast and the western jungles of the country. The rebel group also counts on support from urban student cells in most of Colombia’s larger cities.