A group of 51 United States Congressmen urged Colombia’s government and ELN rebels to continue pursuing peace, while calling on the government to adequately address “paramilitary-style” groups that have become an increasing public threat.
In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, the congressmen said that talks with the ELN “will play an important role in ensuring a complete end to the armed conflict” that has been waging in Colombia since 1964.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced talks with the ELN in June 2014, five days before presidential elections, and announced formal talks earlier this year.
However, he has since refused to formalize the talks, demanding the ELN first end kidnapping practices they have used to fun their organization for decades.
The US lawmakers, spearheaded by House Representatives Sam Farr (D-CA), Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), also called on the ELN to “free all detained or abducted persons in their power and to cease all future kidnappings or detentions.”
“We further call upon the ELN to end the recruitment of minors and the use of landmines, and for the ELN and the government of Colombia to initiate as soon as possible a joint initiative to map and demine areas where landmines continue to threaten the daily life of civilians.”
The US government, with congressional support, has consistently supported peace talks with the FARC, the largest of Colombia’s two rebel groups, that have been taking place in Cuba since late 2012.
The congressmen reiterated this support, but expressed concern on “reports that the pursuit of peace may be threatened by the activities of paramilitary-style groups and by the attacks committed against community leaders, human rights defenders and peace activists in recent months.”
The biggest of these AUC successor groups, “Los Urabeños,” has already outgrown the ELN in size and — together with much smaller neo-paramilitary groups — has become the country’s main human rights violator.
“We urge the government of Colombia to seek effective solutions to these threats that affect rural and urban communities, human rights defenders and leaders of the social movements promoting peacebuilding.
The congressmen called on all sides taking part in Colombia’s 52-year-long armed conflict “to establish a multilateral ceasefire so as to end much of the violence that harms communities throughout Colombia. Such a ceasefire would help create confidence in the negotiations and the possibilities for a comprehensive peace process.
US President Barack Obama has pledged to increase aid for Colombia from $300 million to $450 million in support of post-conflict processes in the event peace is reached with the FARC.
The lawmakers called on Obama to support talks with the ELN the same way he has supported talks with the FARC.