Colombia: Government and ELN agree to extend ceasefire

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A document released by the two parties on X (formerly Twitter) states, “*We have agreed to extend the bilateral, national, and temporary ceasefire starting from 6 February 2024, 00:00 hours, for one hundred and eighty (180) days. *” It further states, “*The National Liberation Army (ELN) has unilaterally and temporarily suspended economic retentions to contribute to the development of the bilateral, national, and temporary ceasefire. *” The kidnapping of Colombian footballer Luis Diaz’s father by the rebel group at the end of October, who was released 12 days later, had endangered the peace process initiated at the end of 2022. During the previous round of negotiations in Mexico in December, the ELN had committed to suspending kidnappings “*in the context of the extension of the ceasefire*” in Colombia.

The ceasefire, which expired on 29 January, had already been extended by seven days last week to provide additional time for negotiators. From the beginning of this new round of discussions, the negotiators had expressed their intention to reach an agreement to extend the truce. Colombian Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez even traveled to Havana just over a week ago to participate in the negotiations. The closing ceremony is now scheduled to take place in the Cuban capital on Tuesday morning.

Gustavo Petro, the first left-wing president in the history of Colombia, has initiated discussions with the main armed groups operating in the country. This includes the ELN, as well as Marxist FARC dissidents (who reject the historic peace agreement of 2016), paramilitary groups, and drug traffickers. The policy of “*total peace*” faces numerous obstacles and is severely criticized by the opposition, as some of these armed groups have increased their actions to expand their territorial influence. In addition to these countries, Germany, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland are involved in accompanying the talks, as well as a representative of the United Nations Secretary-General.

ELN, with an estimated 5,800 fighters and a presence in the West on the Pacific coast and in the northeastern border region with Venezuela, has defied the Colombian state since its inception in 1964 following the Cuban revolution. In total, more than 90 illegal armed groups are currently active in Colombia, including FARC dissidents, ELN, heirs of extreme right-wing paramilitary groups from the 1990s, and simple drug trafficking gangs like the formidable Clan del Golfo, according to the independent Colombian think tank Indepaz.

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