Colombia: peace talks with ELN guerillas?

Colombia's ELN guerillas responded Jan. 31 to the call made two days earlier by Humberto de la Calle, the government's chief negotiator with the FARC guerilla army, to include them in the peace talks. An ELN communique acknowledged that a delegation has been in touch with the government for the past two years to establish terms for opening a formal or "public" peace dialogue, and had expressed its willingness to take this step in November. The statement said the guerillas were still awaiting a response from the government. (El Espectador, Jan. 31)

On Jan. 17, President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to the ELN's heartland in Santander department to announce that he was launching an effort to locate the remains of Camilo Torres Restrepo, the radical priest who founded the ELN in 1965 and was killed in combat the following February. On Jan. 25, army officials announced that human remains exhumed from a military cemetery in Bucaramanga may be those of the legendary guerilla, with a firm identification pending further tests. Locating the resting place of Camilo Torres is seen as an important step towards a peace process with the ELN. (Colombia Informa, El Espectador, Jan. 26; El Tiempo, Colombia Informa, Jan. 25; Prensa Latina, Jan. 17)

Meanwhile, the war with the ELN continues. On Feb. 1, two soldiers from the army's Vulcan Taskforce assigned to guard the Caño-Limón oil pipeline were killed in an ELN ambush in the Catatumbo Valley of Norte de Santander. (El Tiempo, Feb. 1) The government also called upon the ELN to confirm that it is holding an army colonel believed to have been taken captive during operations in Segovia, Antioquia.  (El Espectador, Feb. 4) On Jan. 26, the ELN released a video with a statement from Ramón Cabrales, an advisor to the Norte de Santander departmental government who had disappeared in September—indicating he had been abducted by the guerillas. (El Espectador, Jan. 26) On Jan. 24, Colombia's Fiscalía General announced that army troops had uncovered three cocaine processing laboratories believed to belong to the ELN's Carlos Armando Cacua Front in Hacarí municipality, Norte de Santander. (El Tiempo, Jan. 24)