Colombian government and ELN rebels meet in Havana to restart peace talks | Colombia

Colombia’s new government and members of the country’s last guerrilla group have taken steps to revive peace talks suspended three years ago in Cuba.

Newly elected President Gustavo Petro, a former member of the M-19 guerrillas, has promised to establish “total peace” in Colombia and this week sent a high-level delegation to Cuba to meet with representatives of the Army of National Liberation (ELN).

After a meeting between representatives of the two parties in Havana, Colombia’s national commissioner for peace, Danilo Rueda, said on Friday that the government would take the “judicial and political measures” necessary to make peace talks with the Army possible. of National Liberation, known as the ELN. .

He said this includes lifting arrest warrants for ELN negotiators who currently live in exile in Cuba.

“We believe that the ELN has the same desire for peace as the Colombian government,” Rueda said in his statement. “And I hope they listen to the many voices in different territories who seek a peaceful solution to this armed conflict.”

Peace talks between Colombia’s former government and the ELN ended in 2019 after the rebels detonated a car bomb at a police academy in Bogotá and killed more than 20 cadets.

Following this incident, the Colombian authorities issued arrest warrants against the leaders of the ELN in Cuba for the peace negotiations. But Cuba refused to extradite them, arguing that it would compromise its status as a neutral nation in the conflict and break diplomatic protocols.

The United States responded by adding Cuba to its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Petro said he wanted to start peace talks with the country’s remaining armed groups with the aim of reducing violence in rural areas and bringing lasting peace to the nation of 50 million people.

A 2016 peace deal between the government and the country’s largest guerrilla army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, has helped reduce kidnappings, killings and forced displacement.

But violence has resumed in parts of the country as Farc dissidents, drug trafficking groups and the ELN fight over cocaine smuggling routes, illegal mines and other resources that have been abandoned by the Farcs.

In July, criminal groups staged nearly 90 attacks on police and military, killing 13 police officers, according to Cerac, a think tank that monitors violence in Colombia. This made it one of the most dangerous months for the Colombian Armed Forces in the past two decades.

The ELN, which was founded in 1964, has long been designated by the US State Department as a foreign terrorist organization. The group has around 2,500 fighters in Colombia and also operates drug trafficking routes, extortion rackets and illegal mines in neighboring Venezuela.

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