Peace talks between Colombia’s government and ELN guerrillas are slowly restarting, but neither party has agreed to end hostilities until a new ceasefire is reached.
The government has sent its entire peace delegation to Ecuador, reported Blu Radio.
The ELN’s chief negotiator, “Pablo Beltran,” is also in the neighboring country and has reportedly begun holding private talks with the government’s chief negotiator, former vice-president Gustavo Bell.
Despite both parties being prepared to negotiate, the government brazenly announced that military operations would continue as normal until there is a bilateral ceasefire with the country’s last-standing guerrilla organization.
“We are going to see what happens at the table, but police and military operations will continue as long as there is no rejection of a bilateral ceasefire,” Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas was quoted as saying by Blu Radio.
The guerrillas have been insisting on peace talks and have also refused to refrain from attacking until a “new and improved” ceasefire is agreed.
Both sides have exchanged blows on multiple occasions already this year, following the end of a temporary bilateral ceasefire on January 9.
President Juan Manuel Santos announced to resume talks on Monday, claiming there have been “too many deaths” since the end of the ceasefire. “This is what we must stop,” Santos said.
Social organizations, the Catholic Church and intellectuals had mediated the resumption of talks.
With presidential elections approaching in May, and the real possibility that a candidate hostile to the ELN may be elected, violence between the government and the ELN might be turned up even more in the coming months.
The ceasefire that was in place between October and January was the first in the history of the ELN, which has been fighting the Colombian state since 1964.
Colombia’s largest guerrilla group of the past half century, the FARC, demobilized 14,000 fighters last year.