The Central Command (Coce) of the Marxist guerrilla group the ELN (National Liberation Army) has issued a communiqué, announcing a truce for this end of the year.
According to the ELN, this decision is at the behest of the communities in the countryside, social movements, and various sectors of the country that are interested in peace. “We are announcing a cessation of offensive operations from December 23, 2018 to January 3, 2019, to contribute to a climate of peace and tranquility for Christmas and the New Year,” the document reads.
That is, there will be a 12-day uninterrupted cessation of military activities. In this regard, the ELN indicated that its purpose is to give continuity to the public phase of the negotiations in Havana, Cuba, which began in February 2017 and asked President Iván Duque to send government delegates to the island to continue with the peace process.
President Ivan Duque froze the dialogues after the end of former President Juan Manuel Santos’ presidential term. The condition established by the government to continue with the dialogues is the release of all the hostages who are currently being held by this insurgent group. The dialogues have been suspended since last August 1, when the sixth cycle of negotiations ended.
“I have every desire and willingness to continue, if there is scope for demobilization, disarmament and reintegration, but a pre-condition must be that all criminal activities be suspended, beginning with the release of the kidnapped. If there is no such demonstration of good faith, it will be very difficult because we can not legitimize violence as a mechanism of pressure on the state,” Duque said in August.
The ELN also assured that it will continue to “work for the continuity of the peace process according to the established agenda, with the participation of society and the accompaniment of the international community, seeking humanitarian agreements” and a new bilateral ceasefire such as the one that was in force from October 2017 to January 2018.
The ELN is growing stronger
In recent times, the ELN has carried out attacks against the police, while also targeting the oil infrastructure and transport companies in different parts of the country.
This truce is a manifestation of continuing dialogues by the ELN Central Command. However, as confirmed by several analysts consulted on security matters, some factions of the guerrilla continue to strengthen in strategic territories.
The current war being waged between the ELN and the EPL in the Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander, along the porous Venezuelan border, has already raged for ten months. This territory serves to control lucrative smuggling and drug trafficking routes, making it a longstanding battleground for criminal and insurgent groups battling the Colombian government.
In this region a powerful faction of the ELN, the Northeast War Front, commanded by Manuel Perez Martinez, operates with a mandate to exterminate the EPL guerrilla, which, although much smaller, has proved a tenacious and bitter foe of the ELN, long Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group.
The Catatumbo region has also emerged as key territory for refugees escaping from Venezuela, both for the extreme difficulty the authorities encounter in enforcing border controls, and due to the 28,000 hectares of coca plants estimated to grow there, making it the third largest region of coca cultivation in Colombia.
While the peace agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government greatly reduced armed combatants fighting the government, an estimated 1,700 disillusioned FARC soldiers have returned to the battlefield, while the ELN numbers an estimated 2,200 soldiers.
The Colombian public, which rejected the agreement by narrow margins in a national referendum, remains skeptical that the agreement will really bring peace. This was a key element in the election of Centro Democratico’s Ivan Duque, who explicitly ran on a platform opposing the peace agreement in its current form.
The ELN remains the most powerful organized insurgent element in nearly a dozen of Colombia’s states, but is particularly strong in the Northeastern states of Arauca, Norte de Santander, and Santander, as well as the restless Southwestern states of Cauca and Narino.
Duque has pledged to take a hardline with the group, known for its political extremism, during the course of his presidential term.