BOGOTA - Colombia’s government and the country’s last active guerrilla group, the ELN, announced a ceasefire Monday, a key step toward sealing a “complete peace” to end Latin America’s longest civil war.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in Bogota and ELN negotiators at peace talks in Ecuador announced the ceasefire two days before a visit to Colombia by Pope Francis.
Santos said it was “great news that we are sure will delight” the Argentine pontiff.
Under the ceasefire, “there will be an end to kidnappings, attacks on oil installations and other hostilities against the civilian population,” he said in a televised address.
The 1,500-strong National Liberation Army has been in negotiations with the government following a separate accord that saw the main FARC rebel group completing its disarmament last month.
Under the ELN ceasefire, “there will be an end to kidnappings, attacks on oil installations and other hostilities against the civilian population,” Santos said.
He said the ceasefire will be renewed depending on progress on details still to be thrashed out with the leftist rebels.
“It will come into effect on October 1, initially for 102 days, that is to say until January 12 of next year.”
The ELN delegation earlier announced the deal on Twitter.
“When the days of celebration during Francis’s visit to Colombia are over, we will continue determined to advance toward a de-escalation of the conflict until complete peace becomes a reality.”
Analysts warn that the talks with the ELN, under way since February, risk being even more complicated than those with the FARC.
The talks that led to the accord with the FARC lasted four years. That deal was considered to have practically ended the conflict, but other risks remain.
The 7,000 members of the FARC finished disarming last month under UN supervision.
But officials say remnants of right-wing paramilitary groups are still fighting the ELN for control of the drug trade.
Authorities have also reported deadly attacks by ELN fighters against state forces over recent months.
The government must now seek agreement with the ELN on delicate issues such as ending hostage-taking; the rebel group has a looser command structure than FARC had.
“The lack of cohesion in the ELN is a big difference compared with the FARC,” said Camilo Echandia, a conflict analyst from Colombia’s Externado University.
The FARC and ELN formed in 1964 to fight for land rights and to protect poor rural communities.
The conflict drew in leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups and state forces.
It left 260,000 people confirmed dead, more than 60,000 missing and seven million displaced.
“The sides now have to agree on means of supervising and monitoring” the ELN talks, said political scientist Victor De Currea-Lugo from Colombia National University.
They must also seek “measures to bring about a lowering of the intensity of the conflict,” he added.
- Pope effect -
Both sides have discussed the possibility of agreeing to a temporary ceasefire before the pope’s arrival.
“The visit of Pope Francis should provide extra motivation to speed up the search for an agreement,” the ELN said on Twitter.
It added that the peace talks aimed above all to help poor rural communities suffering “the unfortunate consequences of the conflict.”
The pope supported the long peace process with the FARC, which last week formally transformed into a new political party to compete in next year’s elections.
That peace process faced heavy resistance from critics who said the rebels got off too lightly under the deal.
Some FARC fighters have received amnesties and alternative sentences for crimes committed during the conflict.