BET À DAY
The Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN), the last guerrilla group still active in the South American country, signed a six-month ceasefire agreement in Havana on Friday, extended to include entire national territory.
The agreement for a “national and temporary bilateral ceasefire” was signed in the Cuban capital in the presence of Colombian President Gustavo Petro and ELN leader Antonio Garcia, AFP noted.
“Here a New World is born, here ends a phase of the armed insurrection in Latin America with its myths and its realities”, declared Mr. Petro, first leftist president of Colombia and ex-guerrilla himself.
“This peace process must be different, we must see changes”, urged for his part the First Commander of the ELN, Antonio Garcia, before specifying: “we have not yet signed any substantial agreements”, but only “procedural agreements”.
The presence of the guerrilla leader in Havana had not been announced, but an arrest warrant issued against him had been suspended a few days ago by the Colombian public prosecutor's office, finally allowing his arrival in the Cuban capital.
After a preparatory phase, the ceasefire agreement is expected to come into effect on August 3. “From this date, the 180 days of validity will count down,” said Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, reading the various points of the “Cuban Accords”.
Under the impetus by Gustavo Petro, the Colombian government has been negotiating since the end of 2022 with the ELN, the last constituted guerrilla group still active in Colombia.
The talks began in November in Caracas, before continuing in March in Mexico City .
But the death of nine Colombian soldiers at the end of March in an ELN ambush had raised doubts about the continuation of the negotiations.
They finally resumed for a third round on May 2 in Havana.
Upon the announcement of the signing of the agreement, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised both sides for the agreements “on a national bilateral six-month ceasefire” and “a mechanism to define the participation of Colombian society in the peace process”.
These are “important steps that give hope to the Colombian people”, welcomed Mr. Guterres.
The document signed provides in particular for “the activation of a communication between the parties through the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Colombia,” said Bruno Rodriguez.
The ELN, a guerrilla created in 1964 under the inspiration of the Cuban revolution, had 5,850 fighters in 2022, according to the authorities. It held talks with five governments without results.
In 2017, talks began in Ecuador, leading to a ceasefire agreement that lasted 101 days. This was the only bilateral truce accepted by the rebellion so far.
Negotiations started in 2018 in Havana, under the government of Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018), had been suspended in 2019 by his successor, the conservative Ivan Duque (2018-2022), after an attack against a police school which killed 22 people.
Mr. Duque then reactivated the arrest warrants against the armed group's negotiators and asked Cuba for their extradition, which Havana refused. This refusal prompted US President Donald Trump (2017-2021) to blacklist Cuba as a country supporting terrorism.
“This is an act of injustice that must be corrected said Petro during the ceremony, which was attended by Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel.
Blooded by half a century of armed conflict, Colombia has tried to numerous peace negotiations with armed groups.
In 2016, a historic agreement, negotiated in Havana, led to the disarmament of the powerful Marxist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and its transformation into a political party.
In addition to the ELN, President Petro has been trying to negotiate for several months with dissidents from the ex-FARC, paramilitary groups and criminal groups.