The Colombian government has signed a ceasefire with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the government’s last guerilla group. The signing of the ceasefire took place Monday, September 4, ahead of the visit of Pope Francis who has been personally lobbying for an end to the 50-year-old civil conflict.
Peace talks between the government and the National Liberation Army have been underway since February 2017. The ceasefire, which was signed in Quito, Ecuador, officially goes into effect on October 1 and is to remain in effect until January 12, 2018. Should both sides agree to the terms, the ceasefire may be renewed.
Under the ceasefire, the Colombian government has promised to improve protection for social leaders as well as to design a program providing humanitarian aid to rebels. In exchange for these protections, the ELN has promised to end the recruitment of minors, cease the kidnapping of citizens, and suspend attacks on pipelines and other infrastructure.
According to Fox News, chief negotiator Juan Camilo Restrepo has called the ceasefire historic.
“This is the first agreement of this nature that the government has signed with this guerrilla group in more than 50 years,” said Restrepo. “And it constitutes the first step toward advancing a definitive peace.”
The conflict between the government and the right-wing paramilitary groups ELN and FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) have been ongoing for the past five decades. While 3.3 million people in the United States are killed every year due to air pollution alone, FARC and ELN have been responsible for the displacement of 6 million Colombians, the disappearances of over 10,000 citizens, and over 260,000 deaths.
While the FARC may have been the largest guerrilla group in the country, the group primarily financed itself through the drug trade. ELN, on the other hand, has been funding itself via extortion and kidnappings. The group’s previous refusal to end their kidnapping practices has resulted in the rage of many Colombian citizens.
However, peace talks between the government and ELN have been slow to progress, which makes taking a tougher line in negotiations difficult.
“The priority is protecting citizens,” said President Juan Manuel Santos. “That’s why during this period the kidnappings, attacks on oil pipelines and other hostilities against the civilian population will cease.”
The ELN, founded by Fabio Vásquez Castaño and a series of radical Roman Catholic priests in 1964, is currently believed to be made up of 1,500 fighters and has been marked as a terrorist group by the European Union and the United States.
“The pope is arriving amid a unique moment in our history,” said Santos, “as we turn the page on an absurd conflict and look to the future with hope.”
The ceasefire is to be verified by the Catholic Church, the United Nations, and independent observers.
Photo: Juan Cevallos / AFP – Getty Images