All eyes on Santos after ELN and FARC reach agreement stating that peace dialogues between the gov’t and both groups should take place at the same time
COLOMBIA’S SECOND largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), announced this week that it had “reached an agreement” with the larger FARC guerrillas, to seek to hold separate talks with the government at the same time as the FARC.
In a statement made on its website on Monday, the ELN said it had held “important meetings” with FARC representatives, and that the two groups would pressure the government to open up a ‘separate front’ of peace talks with the ELN.
This agreement could pave the way for peace talks between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the smaller insurgent group – something President Santos has openly supported in the past.
In a related development last week, Andres Paris, head of communications of the FARC’s negotiation team in Havana, left the talks and was to “return to the jungle,” the FARC said without elaborating. The next round of talks between the FARC and government would also be delayed, according to an exclusive report by the 2Orillas news website.
Neither the FARC nor the government negotiators have commented on Paris’ departure, or the delay in the talks. The 2Orillas report went on to say that the ex-High Commissioner for Peace, Frank Pearl, will not continue working with the government’s negotiation team.
The government gave no reason for Pearl’s exit – but the departure of two high-ranking negotiators from the talks has fuelled speculation that they were tasked with spearheading peace talks between the government and the ELN.
No one knows where such talks will take place, but Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica has offered to host them, and Ecuador has also been mentioned.
The silence around the possibility of opening separate peace talks with the ELN is part of a wider government strategy to move things along unhindered, analysts told The Bogota Post.
“It’s curious that the ELN should announce this and then ask for everything to remain under wraps until an agenda for dialogues is agreed, [but] I imagine that the slick political machinery behind the Santos government perhaps asked for this admission as a gesture of goodwill,” Colombia-based journalist and political commentator Richard McColl said.
Asked how holding concurrent talks would affect the two-year-old dialogues with the FARC, McColl said it may play in the favour of the two guerrilla groups.
“There will be a clear knock-on effect,” he said. “If outcomes of dialogues from either side are made too public, then of course they can be used as leverage by the other group. The government is in a very precari- ous situation.”
Christian Voelkel, senior Colombia Analyst for the NGO International Crisis Group, also said it is in the ELN’s interest to start peace talks sooner rather than later.
“There is a strong motivation for the ELN to start talks before the current [FARC] talks are finalised,” Voelkel said. “Firstly because they want to influence issues, like victims and political participation, and secondly because the FARC talks have been very distrusted by certain sectors, so people will just not bother with the ELN.”
Just days before his successful re-election bid in June this year, President Santos and the ELN jointly announced they were entering into exploratory discussions about what would be on the agenda for any such talks, but the Colombian head of state has said virtually nothing since then.
By Mark Kennedy