In Havana meeting, Colombia agrees to cease-fire with the largest remaining guerrilla group

Tribune Content Agency

The Colombian government and the National Liberation Army guerrilla group, known by its initials in Spanish as ELN, have agreed to a bilateral cease-fire, representatives said Friday from Havana at the closing ceremony of the third round of peace talks, in what has been described as the most concrete step taken so far in the slow-going process.

The parties — headed by Colombian President Gustavo Petro and top ELN Commander Eliécer Herlinto Chamorro Acosta, also known as Antonio García — also agreed to meet again in Venezuela in August to initiate the next phase of the talks, which aim to put an end to the half-century long armed conflict.

Signed on Friday by Petro and Garcia, the cease-fire is set to be implemented gradually, starting Aug. 3, and is scheduled to last for 180 days. Its adoption “seeks to achieve a humanitarian purpose, to lower the intensity of the conflict to establish in Colombia a better climate for the participation of society” in the peace process, chief ELN negotiator Israel Ramírez, also known as Pablo Beltrán, said.

Set to be monitored by the United Nations and the Catholic Church, the agreement was immediately hailed as a positive sign that the parties were finally advancing.

“These are important steps forward that send hope to the Colombian people, especially the communities which are most affected by conflict,” a spokesperson for the U.N. secretary-general said in a press release. “The participation of the President of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, and the First Commander of the ELN, Antonio García, at the signing ceremony in Havana confirms the political will of the parties.”

Petro flew to Cuba for the signing ceremony despite facing a new scandal at home, following leaked conversations of one of his top advisers suggesting that dirty money was used to finance his presidential campaign.

Aside from the cease-fire, the different rounds of talks had so far failed to provide substantial achievements, a situation that was acknowledged on Friday by García, who told reporters that parties have yet to sign “agreements of substance,” having spent most of their time discussing terms of procedure.

Representatives decided to meet again on Aug. 14 in Venezuela for the next round of talks that is expected to last three weeks.

Founded in 1964, the guerrilla group, inspired by the Cuban revolution, currently has between 2,000 and 4,000 fighters operating out of 200 Colombian municipalities and out of Venezuelan bordering states. It had previously attempted to reach a peace agreement with the Colombian government without much success. The cease-fire is the longest ever agreed to by both parties.

In 2016, the government reached a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, that ended the hostilities with that rebel group, which had also been fighting the Colombian government since the 1960s.