Colombia: popular pressure to save ELN talks

Colombia’s government is under pressure from both the United Nations and impacted communities in the conflict zones to rebuild a ceasefire with the ELN guerillas and return to the dialogue table. A 100-day ceasefire that began in October ran out Jan. 10, and ELN fighters within hours attacked the Ca帽o Lim贸n oil pipeline in Casanare department, forcing a suspension of pumping operations. The guerillas also attacked a military base in Arauca department. President Juan Manuel Santos immediately responded by recalling his peace negotiator Gustavo Bell, who had been in Quito to begin the fifth round of talks with the ELN delegation. Santos said Bell was recalled to Bogot谩 “to evaluate the future of the process.” ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltr谩n reacted in an official statement, pledging: “We maintain our determination, previously expressed, to agree on a new bilateral ceasefire.” (El Colombiano, Jan. 11; Al Jazeera, El Tiempo, Reuters, BBC News, Jan. 10; El Teimpo, Dec. 1)

Colombia’s National Council of Peace, Reconciliation and Co-existence (CNPRC), a civil society body,聽is also calling for a new and indefinite ceasefire with the ELN.聽In a document entitled “Bilateral Ceasefire: an Opportunity for Life, Participation and Reconciliation,” the CNPRC said the 100-day ceasefire allowed “the force of life and understanding to show us the way to peace-building.”聽(Europa Press, Jan. 19;聽TeleSur, Jan. 18)

During his Jan. 14 visit to Colombia, UN Secretary General Ant贸nio Guterres聽added his voice to the calls for a new ceasefire with the ELN.聽Leaders of affected communities in the conflcit zones of Arauca, Choc贸, Nari帽o and Catatumbo have also been demanding that both parties return to the dialogue table.聽(El Espectador, Jan. 15; El Espectador, Jan. 11)

Local tensions were escalated following the Oct. 24 assassination of Aulio Isarama Forastero, a traditional indigenous leader in Alto Baud贸 municipality, Choc贸. The Dialogue Table of the Indigenous Peoples of Choc贸 issued a statement calling the ELN the likely prepetrator in the attack, and demanding the guerillas divulge any information on the slaying. The ELN’s Western Front responded with a statement acknowledging that their fighters killed Forastero after abducting and interrogating him on suspicion of being an informant. The statement called his death a “tragic result.” (El Tiempo, Oct. 30; El Pais, Oct. 29; El Espectador, Oct. 26)

Photo: Colombia Reports