Havana hosts peace talks between Colombian government and ELN guerrillas

World Today

(L-R) ELN Commander Pablo Beltran, Cuban representative Ivan Mora and Colombian representative Gustavo Bell. (PHOTO: Luis Chirino)

Report by Luis Chirino

In Havana, Cuba, the fifth round of peace talks between Colombia’s government and the National Liberation Army rebel organization (ELN) resumed Thursday. The talks are designed to find agreement for a bilateral ceasefire, and to seek social participation in the larger peace process.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had instructed his delegation to resume talks in March, responding in part to a ceasefire declared by ELN during the legislative elections that month.

The two parties’ delegations were headed by the representative of the Colombian government, Dr. Gustavo Bell, and ELN Commander Pablo Beltran. Cuba, serving as broker for the talks, was represented by Ambassador Ivan Mora. Other nations involved with the talks – Brazil, Norway, Chile and Venezuela – were also present.

Ecuador had hosted 15 months of peace talks between the Colombia and the ELN, but removed itself as host last month after a dramatic increase in violence on its border with Colombia.

Cuba had previously hosted peace negotiations between the Juan Manuel Santos government and the Colombian Armed Forces Rebel organization (FARC), the oldest and strongest guerrilla group. Those negotiations helped lead to what has been described as a historic peace accord between the two factions. For his role, Juan Manuel Santos also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.

Head of the ELN delegation, Commander Pablo Beltran, said his group will strive for an agreement that puts an end to the armed conflict. Over the past five decades, the internal war between ELN and the government has left more than 220,000 Colombians dead, forced 360,000 to flee the country, and displaced 6.7 million from their homes.

Comandante Pablo Beltran

ELN Commander Pablo Beltran (PHOTO: Luis Chirino)

The United Nations, European Union, as well as social and political sectors in Colombia, have welcomed the resumption of the talks.

ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltran was keen to play up the rebels’ willingness to pursue a peace deal. “We are aware that the only viable way for Colombia, for a political solution, is to move forward on this path of dialogue.”

Story includes some reporting from AFP.