The ELN have released six hostages in the department of Chocó in a further indication to initiate peace talks with the government.
Policemen Wilber Rentería, Luis Carlos Torres and Yemison Gómez Correa, soldier Jesús Alberto Ramírez Silva and civilians Yilson Delgado Murillo and Edison Cuero Rentería were all freed on Wednesday after 38 days under ELN custody in a move indicating a desire to return to peace talks with the Colombian government.
The successful release of the hostages had been done under the guidance of the Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoria del Publica), an Episcopal group led by the Bishop of Quibdó and the Red Cross. The logistics of the release had not been priorly discussed with the government and was conducted in a peaceful manner.
Following the release, Ombudsman Carlos Alfonso Negret Mosquera said that “the peace process (with the ELN) has to continue, it must continue to be promoted, because nobody really knows what is happening in the rural, indigenous and Afro-colombian areas within the jungles of Chocó.”
The ELN have a prominent presence in the department of Chocó and, following the peace accord between the government and the FARC, have been profiting from the department’s coca crops and illegal gold mining. Since 2009, they have been in conflict with the Urabeños–one of Colombia’s most powerful criminal groups–in addition to carrying out militant acts against public infrastructure and civilians. There remain six hostages in their control in the department of Arauca.
The possibility of a peace deal now depends in part on whether the remaining hostages will be freed and whether President Duque will be willing to restart negotiations. Duque stated on Wednesday that, though the release of the hostages is a pleasing development, the cessation of criminal activities like narcotrafficking and the return of all hostages would be a minimum requirement before a dialogue between the two parties could begin.
The Colombian President is also yet to decide on who will conduct the negotiations on behalf of the government. The seat of the negotiations are currently in Havana, Cuba, where ELN leadership are waiting to resume talks that have been suspended since August 1 when the previous administration failed to make a breakthrough on a peace deal.