The temporary bilateral ceasefire agreed between the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, ELN) and the Colombian government paves the way for a deal to bring an end to armed conflict and reach a lasting peace in the South American country.
Sinay Céspedes Moreno
The announcement was made on 4 September at the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the two sides, who since February last year have been holding talks on the outskirts of the Ecuadorian capital to put an end to a 50-year long armed conflict in Colombia that has also affected neighbouring countries such as Ecuador.
“We did it! Thank you to everyone who resolutely supported the efforts to reach this BilateralCeasefire”, the guerrilla group wrote on its Twitter account, shortly after reaching an agreement with the government led by President Juan Manuel Santos.
‘With the intention of undertaking humanitarian action, the National Government and the National Liberation Army have agreed to enact a temporary bilateral ceasefire to de-escalate the armed conflict’, they later announced in a joint statement.
However, the truce doesn’t just mean the laying down of arms, it will also improve the humanitarian situation of the civilian population at large – the group that has been most affected by fighting that has left 320,000 dead, 46,000 missing and nearly seven million displaced. The ceasefire will come into effect on 1 October and last until 9 January 2018.
In order to guarantee that both sides comply with the ceasefire agreement, they decided to establish a mechanism consisting of the Colombian government, the National Liberation Army, the United Nations, and the Catholic Church, that will work with the double aim of preventing and reporting any possible incident.
The Quito Agreement, signed at the end of the third round of talks, will see an extension to the round of negotiations in order to fine tune logistical aspects of the ceasefire agreement.
For Juan Camilo Restrepo, head of the government’s negotiating team, ‘[the agreement] is a huge first step towards starting to civilise the war in Colombia’. At his side, the ELN’s lead negotiator, Pablo Beltrán, said that the bilateral and temporary decision is a clear sign of how things can change in Colombia.
“(…) this agreement and this episode demonstrate that it is possible for us to change, and that relief for the people, who are directly hit by the effects of the conflict, is dependent on us changing. The commitments we have taken on are in service of this”, he stated. “Upon signing the pact, both sides made commitments that they must honour”
During the ceasefire, the ELN will have to put a stop to kidnappings, stop recruiting child soldiers, and stop planting explosives and anti-personnel mines, as stated by the negotiating chiefs in a press conference.
Meanwhile, the Colombian government will oversee a humanitarian programme for Colombia’s prison population, with improvements in health and treatment of the prison population, a more humane policy regarding where they are imprisoned, and improved security inside prison compounds themselves, among other measures.
Once the ceasefire comes into effect, a concurrent process of dialogue and consultation with the general public will begin, starting with public hearings that will take place at the start of the fourth round of negotiations, planned for 23 October, also due to take place in the Ecuadorian capital.
Since 7 February last year, when the public phase of the peace negotiations between the ELN and the Santos administration opened, Ecuador has hosted the talks, which have received the backing of Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil, Norway, and Chile acting as guarantor countries. The deal signed after only seven months of talks represents, in the eyes of many people, a major step on the path towards peace, and as such the displays of approval and support made in public on social media are numerous.
“A round of applause for both the ELN and the government for the #BilateralCeasefire agreement reached in Quito. May nobody doubt the @ELN_Paz’s desire for peace’, Iván Márquez, member of the national leadership of the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternative Revolucionaria del Común, FARC), the political party founded after the dissolution of Colombia’s largest guerrilla force, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo, FARC-EP).
The former politician and chief negotiator for the Peace Agreement signed in Havana, Cuba, between FARC-EP and the Juan Manuel Santos administration, Humberto de La Calle, also joined in by offering his congratulations.
“The announcement of a bilateral ceasefire with the ELN is a gesture of hope that I hope is consolidated”, he said on Twitter.
From Quito, the Ecuadorian national authorities also hailed the determination of both sides, among them the Secretary General of the governing Movimiento Alianza PAIS, Gabriela Rivadeneira, who wrote: ‘We warmly welcome the ##CeseAlFuegoBilateral agreed in Quito. What has been achieved by @ELN_Paz and @EquipoPazGob is a strong step towards peace’. “Dialogue as a peace mechanism. Let’s celebrate the announcement of the #CeseAlFuegoBilateral between @ELN_Paz and @EquipoPazGob. A great step forward for the region!”, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, María Fernanda Espinosa, said, who had accompanied the delegations during the reading of the Agreement. (PL)
(Translated by Matthew Rose – Email: email@example.com)