The Colombian government and the nation’s largest remaining guerrilla faction, the ELN, formally entered into a bilateral ceasefire yesterday in the culmination of an agreement reached last month in the lead up to Pope Francis’ four-day visit to the country.
At the presidential palace in Bogotá, President Juan Manuel Santos signed the decree to bring the deal into force through at least January 9 of next year. Under the ceasefire, the ELN (National Liberal Army) has pledged to stop kidnapping, recruiting minors, planting landmines, and attacking both Colombian security personal and infrastructure, namely oil pipelines.
The Santos administration, for its part, has agreed to two major concessions: improving prison conditions for the roughly 450 ELN guerrillas currently incarcerated and increasing protection efforts for community activists. Over the past two years, right-wing criminal organizations have ramped up their attacks on high-profile community leaders and human rights defenders in rural areas, killing at least 60 in 2016 alone, according to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights.
“With the decree I have just signed, the minister of defense, the military forces and the police are ordered to ceasefire with the ELN,” said Santos. The president added that despite the agreement, the armed forces and police remain “obliged to continue defending the citizens in their life, honor and property, and they will act, with all forcefulness, against all types of crimes.”
The ceasefire will be verified by leaders on both sides in addition to the United Nations and the Catholic Church and the guarantor nations of Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Venezuela, Norway, and Ecuador. The UN will station observers in 33 different locations that have been among the most affected by conflict with the ELN.
Santos said that he hopes that the ceasefire will allow the two sides to continue a dialogue that will lead to a full peace. “As Pope Francis has recommended, we should never stop seeking peace,” said Santos. “May this temporary ceasefire and cessation of hostilities, ending on January 9, be renewed and become the first step to achieve peace with this guerrilla group.”
Hopes for Longer-Term Peace
If the temporary ceasefire can be honored through January 9 and further extended long enough for the two sides to hash out a full peace accord, it would build upon the agreement the government finalized late last year with FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and help forge a full peace to end a conflict that dates back more than half a century.
The ELN, which is believed to have less than half the number of members of the FARC’s now demobilized 7,000-guerrilla faction, has been seeking an end to hostilities since at least last year.
The group was was granted a formal spot at the negotiating table in the Ecuadorian capital Quito in February only after agreeing to release several high-profile hostages it had been holding, although ongoing attacks have complicated the process. It was only amid ramped-up efforts in the days before Pope Francis visited Colombia that the two sides were able to overcome the stalled progress to hammer out this temporary agreement.
The controversial peace agreement with the FARC, which led to Santos winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, was passed by the Colombian Congress last December. The guerrillas spent the subsequent six months demobilizing into demarcated zones across the country before handing over their weapons to UN monitors.
In late August, the disarmed group officially transformed into a political party (changing its name while retaining the FARC acronym), as agreed to under the peace deal. While the bulk of the rank-and-file have received amnesty and will now attempt to reintegrate into society, higher-level commanders and others who committed grave crimes will face judgement under the forthcoming “transitional justice” protocol followed by confinement.
While the ELN’s path to demobilization would likely come with significant differences — especially if no formal deal materializes prior to Santos leaving office next year when his second presidential term ends — the group is expected to continue pushing for a peace deal that resembles the accord that FARC signed.