Left in the Cold? The ELN and Colombia’s Peace Talks

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Bogotá/Brussels, 26 February 2014: Bringing the National Liberation Army (ELN) into the current round of negotiations is vital for durable peace.

In its latest report, Left in the Cold? The ELN and Colombia’s Peace Talks, the International Crisis Group examines the opportunities for talks between Bogotá and the National Liberation Army (ELN). As the Havana-based peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s largest guerrilla group, look increasingly promising, pressure is growing to open a separate, but coordinated, negotiation with the ELN. Yet getting there is proving difficult. The ELN thinks the government needs to make an overture or risk ongoing conflict; the government believes the ELN must show flexibility or risk being left out. But delay is in neither’s long-term interest. They should open negotiations soonest.The report’s major findings and recommendations are:

  • Although weakened, the ELN is not close to defeat. Stronger involvement in the drug economy and illegal mining has helped it resist military pressure and even begin a tentative recovery.
  • Postponing negotiations with the ELN until after a deal with FARC has been reached might appear attractive but would not be prudent, as continuation of the conflict would then risk undermining implementation of a possible FARC deal.
  • Even more than the government, the ELN has an interest in engaging in talks soon. Failure to do so would expose the organisation to escalating military operations, growing pressure to adhere to outcomes reached only with FARC and ever fewer possibilities to negotiate issues beyond the terms of its own demobilisation.
  • ELN demands for a wide agenda and broad social participation in talks are at odds with the Havana template’s narrow and confidential focus. Nonetheless, common ground exists, and an agenda focusing on transitional justice, political participation and (the ELN’s core grievance) exploitation of natural resources should not be beyond reach.

“How the ELN handles this situation will shape more than its own path. Continuing and potentially intensifying warfare in ELN strongholds would above all be a tragedy for communities that have already suffered decades of violence”, says Christian Voelkel, Colombia/Andes Analyst. “And without the second insurgency on board, the government’s stated goal of ending the conflict would remain elusive”.

“While both sides have incentives to move expeditiously to formal negotiations, the way forward will not be easy”, says Javier Ciurlizza, Latin America Program Director. “Audacity, creativity and pragmatism are needed from all if the ELN is not to miss what could be its last chance to exit gracefully from armed conflict, and Colombia is to seize its chance of achieving sustainable peace”.

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