In a joint statement issued on Tuesday, the Colombian government and the country’s number two rebel army announced that they would go undergo preliminary peace discussions.
The communiqué from the government and ELN guerillas mentioned six points including that both parties agreed to an “exploratory phase” of talks with the goal of “finding a viable end to the armed conflict and construct a stable and strong peace for Colombia.” Among the topics agreed upon for discussion are the victims of the country’s decades-long civil conflict and “participation of civil society.”
“We express to Colombia and the international community the shared will to continue with the exploratory phase that will allows us to agree on an agenda and establish talks until reaching a final agreement,” read one of the points on the statement.
The communiqué expressed gratitude to the governments of Brazil, Chile, Cuba Ecuador, Norway and Venezuela for their “good faith” in cooperating with the process.
The statement neglected to mention exactly where or when the discussions would take place and also omitted providing the names of who would participate for both sides in the negotiations. Yet President Juan Manuel Santos said this afternoon that the talks would be held under the same conditions as with the FARC, Colombia’s oldest and largest guerillas, and would include no laying down of arms or a ceasefire. (This would also mean that the Colombian military’s offensive against both rebel factions would continue).
“An integral peace process that includes the FARC and the ELN is the best guarantee for the victims and for the country that this conflict will end forever and never be repeated,” Santos told reporters.
Negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC have been under way since November 2012. Both sides have thus far reached partial agreements on how to deal with the drug trade, land reform, and political participation.
Last Saturday the government and FARC representatives in Cuba agreed to establish a “truth commission” with the aim of investigating the deaths of an estimated 220,000 people. Additionally, the guerillas publicly acknowledged for the first time their responsibility for victims of the armed conflict and both sides will permit hearing the demands of victims who will meet with them in Havana.
"Each day we feel closer to the mountaintop, to the Mount Everest of rights, which is peace. Without that no other rights are possible," declared rebel negotiator Ivan Marquez.
The timing of the recent government announcements with the FARC and ELN have raised eyebrows among detractors of Santos since they come days prior to this Sunday’s presidential race.
“This is an opportune intervention by the terrorists who are trying to breathe life into the president’s electoral worries,” said Francisco Santos, the president’s brother and campaign manager for rightwing opposition candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.
The negotiations with the rebels has become the main topic in the ugly and nasty dogfight between Zuluaga, the staunch ally of ex-president Alvaro Uribe who won in the first round of elections, and Santos, the former newspaper editor and defense minister tuned conservative president. In a televised debate Monday night, for instance, both men opted to insult each other with Santos accusing his rival of being a warmonger while the Uribista candidate claimed that the president “deceived millions of Colombians.”
While the subject of the armed conflict continues to be used as electoral fodder by Santos and Zuluaga, some victims’ rights advances have praised the recent actions by the government:
The director of the Unit for Attention and Integral Reparation for Victims agency, Paula Gaviria, deemed the announcement of exploratory talks with the ELN as “highly favorable for the victims (of armed conflict).
According to the official, “we have information that the victims will be at the center of these talks, which gives us plenty of hope.”
Human rights group Amnesty International praised Saturday’s “historic” agreement but emphasized, “Any agreement that fails to ensure those suspected of criminal responsibility for abuses face the courts will be incomplete and fragile.”
For his part, the coordinator of the National Gathering of Victims, Jorge Vásquez, considered the announcement as “the result of a result we have been waiting for over many years” and insisted that it’s fundamental that victims are allowed to participate in this new process.
Online Sources - Amnesty International; Colombia Reports; El Espectador; Vanguardia Liberal; Office of the Colombian President; Reuters; BBC News; Al Jazeera
Video Source - YouTube user afpes