Colombian Government and ELN Launch Formal Peace Talks

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : The Colombian government and country’s second-largest leftist guerrilla, the ELN, announced that the two parties launched formal and official peace talks, parallel to the ongoing peace talks with the FARC-EP. The breakthrough comes after years of back channel negotiations and increases the likelihood that 51 years of civil war in Colombia will come to an end.

ELN fighters_Colombia_(archives)Representatives of the Colombian administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN) issued a joint statement about the launch of the official phase of peace talks in the Venezuelan capital Caracas on Wednesday, March 30, 2016.

The peace talks between the government and the ELN will be held parallel to the already ongoing peace talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – Peoples’ Army (FARC-EP). Considering that the government and the FARC-EP are expected to sign a final peace accord in 2016, the transition from back channel talks to official talks between the government and the ELN significantly increases the chance that the 51-year-long civil war in Colombia finally will come to an end.

The government, the FARC-EP, the ELN, the United Nations and other international actors agree that the greatest threat to peace and security in Colombia today emerges from far-right neo-paramilitaries and drug traffickers. The second largest thereat to peace and security in Colombia emerges from socio-political and socio-economic factors that are being addressed by the government and the FARC-EP. The statement issued about the program for the peace talks between the government and the ELN reflects the same concerns. The talks between the Colombian government and the ELN will be hosted by Brazil, Chile, Cuba and Venezuela. Norway will act as guarantor nation for the talks, a role that it also holds with regard to the talks between the government and the FARC-EP. The talks will be monitored by the Catholic church.

Government – ELN Agreement Addresses Concerns Similar to Those in Government – FARC-EP Peace Talks
Colombian government and ELN delegates meet in Caracas, Venezuela.

Colombian government and ELN delegates meet in Caracas, Venezuela.

Principle Points on the Agenda. The joint statement issued by the representatives of the government and the ELN largely addresses the same fundamental issues that also have been and are being addressed in the ongoing peace talks between the government and the FARC-EP.

Official peace talks between the FARC-EP and the government were launched in the Cuban capital Havana in 2012. Unofficial, back channel or “explorative” talks between the government and the ELN were launched in 2014. The ELN has since then repeatedly expressed its disposition for peace and agreed to enter formal peace talks.

Earlier this year the ELN reiterated its disappointment about the fact that representatives of the government had stalled the continuation of the talks. The Colombian government has now taken action to remove ELN peace negotiators from Interpol’s list of wanted persons. The move enables ELN negotiators to travel more freely so as to participate in official peace talks.

The statement acknowledges that peace is the ultimate good of any democracy and that the parties enter talks with the objective to put an end to armed conflict, to eradicate political violence, to put at the center the situation of the victims and move towards national reconciliation through active public participation. The latter refers to the ELN’s transition from an armed revolutionary organization to that of a political organization that participates in Colombian politics.

The statement notes that the delegations have agreed on several points to achieve this objective, namely, to launch official peace talks in Ecuador, to continue the talks in Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Cuba and Venezuela with Norway as guarantor, to proceed with direct and continuous talks between the government and the ELN, to pursue the talks swiftly and with rigor, and to develop points noted in the agenda for the peace talks.

The government and ELN delegates agreed that the debate shall examine the participation of civil society in problems that directly affect their reality and lives so that aspirations can be channeled towards constructive political participation. Peaceful means for settling conflicts are perceived as a step towards achieving peace. Among others, there shall be a revision of the regulatory framework and guarantees for the right to hold public demonstrations.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and FARC-EP delagates in Cuba, March 2016.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and FARC-EP delagates in Cuba, March 2016.

Another point on the agenda is a review of the legal situation of those who have been accused or convicted of participation in social mobilization. Importantly, the delegates agreed on the review of public political participation as a fundamental element of citizenship.

The latter must be viewed in the light of the police and military, but possibly more importantly by paramilitary death squads that have oppressed social political movements for decades. These ultra-right-wing death squads have been linked to the Colombian government, and among others, to former President Alvaro Uribe.

Death squads and right-wing paramilitaries and neo-paramilitaries have also been linked to U.S. forces stationed in Colombia and U.S.’ and other foreign intelligence services. It is noteworthy that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, during his recent talks with the FARC-EP in Cuba, noted that the USA would implement far-reaching initiatives to assure the safety of the guerrilla after  decommissioning its weapons.

ELN_Colombian Government_Colombia_ELN peace documentA Transformation towards Peace. The delegates of the government and the ELN agreed that a transformation towards peace requires that proposals for the transformation of society can be made by its constituents. The importance of this point has been underpinned with the motto “Democracy for Peace”.

The parties also agreed that there shall be implemented transformative programs aimed at overcoming poverty, social exclusion, corruption and environmental degradation. These points are perceived as necessary factors in the strive for equality. The delegates also agreed on the need to review alternative plans with territorial or regional focus so that communities can benefit from a local or regional activities.

Considering the Victims. The parties agreed that it is essential for a lasting peace to acknowledge the victims of the conflict and their rights. The situation of all victims shall be considered on the basis of a search for truth and justice, on reparations, and commitments to the non-repetition of acts that have victimized them and on remembrance. The delegates agreed that the deliberation about the issue of victims shall be based on forgiveness as part of the reconciliation process as well as on the treatment of and the resolution to their situation based on truth, justice, reparation, commitments of non-repetition and remembrance. These joint elements support forgiveness and a reconciliation process.

The latter may not be consistent with principles that have been endorsed by the Rome Statutes and other legislation about war crimes or by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The example of South Africa, however, showcases that it is a feasible model that facilitates a transformation towards peace, while the ICC, for example, has been criticized by many, including former South African President Thabo Mbeki, of aggravating and prolonging rather than resolving conflicts.

Ending the Armed Conflict and Implementing a Peace Agreement. The delegates agreed that an end to violence and armed hostilities requires politics that facilitate the ELN’s transition to legal politics. Such politics need to consider the definition of and the future legal status of the ELN and its members. The delegates also agreed on the need to guarantee the safety of the ELN and its members as well as guarantees for the right to exercise political rights. The parties agree that tackling the phenomena of paramilitaries is necessary to prevent a recurrence of conflict. The delegates also agreed that such politics need to tackle the detention of those ELN members who have been charged and convicted.

The delegates agreed on the need for humanitarian action and the implementation of a bilateral ceasefire prior to the final cessation of hostilities. The parties agreed that the establishment of such circumstances as generated by the peace process would lead to the decommissioning of arms through procedural and institutional adjustments that have to be agreed upon in a general plan for the implementation of the peace. The plan for the implementation needs to include checks and balances, verification mechanisms, and the participation of the general public as well as the international community. The plan should consider the judicial, political, social, economic and diplomatic dimensions of the process.

The Public Phase and Involving the Public. The delegates of the government and of the ELN agreed that society needs objective and balanced information about the peace talks as well as about the peace process. To achieve this goal, the parties agreed to facilitate participatory communication as well as on the issuing of joint declarations at the end of each cycle of talks.

Besides that, each party shall be allowed to issue declarations when it is deemed convenient. The parties also agreed on publishing joint statements on a website and on other measures that facilitate communication between the parties and the general public to facilitate an open, respectful and cooperative environment that is conducive of a culture of peace.

The Form and Financing of the Delegations and Peace Talks. The government and the ELN agreed that each delegation will have 30 representatives. During the table’s sessions 10 members of each delegation will participate. Five of them will be primary and five will be supplementary. The conversations during the public phase will develop following the order of the established agenda and any change will have to be based on a mutual agreement.

Once the talks between the government and the ELN have reached this public phase, there will be implemented mechanisms to coordinate and synchronize the talks between the government and the ELN with those between the government and the FARC-EP in the Cuban capital Havana.

The parties agreed that the Colombian government will make resources available for the operation of the governments peace delegation. The costs for the ELN delegation, including costs for advisers and activities shall be financed through an international cooperation fund that shall be established with the purpose to finance the ELN’s peace delegation and its activities.

CH/L – nsnbc 31.03.2014

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