The Colombian government today signed a temporary bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the guerrilla group that became Colombia’s largest following the peace deal reached with the FARC late last year.
The two sides, which have been formally negotiating since February in the Ecuadorian capital Quito, had stepped up the urgency to reach an agreement in the lead up to this week’s historic visit to Colombia by Pope Francis.
The ceasefire will officially begin on October 1, President Juan Manuel Santos said today in an address, and last for a period of 102 days until January 9. After that point, the truce “will be renewed to the extent that it is fulfilled and the negotiations on other points advance.”
The ceasefire includes a pledge by the ELN to stop kidnapping, attacking pipelines, and committing “other hostilities against citizens,” stressed the president.
A new round of talks will begin in Quito on October 24, and throughout the ceasefire a group — including members of the government, ELN, United Nations and the Catholic Church — will “work with the dual purpose of preventing and reporting any incident,” said the government in a statement.
The United Nations, in a statement, praised today’s agreement as another “concrete step” forward to create confidence in Colombia’s peace process and support human rights. It said that Colombian citizens who directly suffer under violence will be the principal beneficiaries of the ceasefire.
The ELN was founded in 1964 with support from Catholic priests and has been a primary belligerent force in an internal conflict that dates back more than a half-century. It is believed to have upwards of 2,000 active members and has continued to abduct citizens even during peace talks.
“The pope arrives at a unique moment in our history, when we turn the page on an absurd conflict and look forward to the future,” said Santos.
The head of the Catholic Church will arrive in Colombia for the first time in more than three decades on Wednesday, September 6. Pope Francis, who has been a vital voice in promoting peace and overcoming old wounds in Latin America, suggested last year that he would visit the country if it was able to reach peace with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).
The end of the conflict with FARC, reached by a controversial peace agreement that was initially voted down by the public at a ballot box, was further cemented last week. The former guerrillas, who handed over their weapons to United Nations officials earlier this summer, officially transitioned their group under new leadership into a political party, the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC).
With FARC disbanded as an armed group and ELN at least temporarily pledging to avoid violence, Pope Francis plans to call for reconciliation during his five-day visit to a country that has been living through conflict for the majority of the 80-year-old’s life.
According to the Vatican — during stops in Cartagena, Medellín, Villavicencio, and Bogotá — the pope will focus his prayers and addresses on the following themes: “Builders of Peace, Promoters of Life,” “Reconciliation with God, Among Colombians and with Nature,” “The Christian Vocation and Apostolate,” and “The Dignity of People and Human Rights.”