The peace teams from the Colombian government and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla are locked in negotiations to reach an agreement on an indefinite bilateral ceasefire.
The start of the fifth round of talks taking place in Quito since March 12 had been abruptly suspended on January 29 after a rash of bombings against police stations along the Colombian coast and announcement by the Ejercito de Liberación Nacional of a four-day Armed Offensive.
On March 12, President Juan Manuel Santos instructed his chief peace negotiator, Gustavo Bell, to return to Quito, and resume talks aimed at resolving the gridlock over a bilateral ceasefire. “Since the bilateral ceasefire ended, there have been too many deaths on both sides, too many wounded, too many victims,” said Santos in a televised address, justifying the start of the critical fifth round of talks after a six-week interruption.”Our objective is to save lives and achieve total peace in Colombia,” said Santos.
Peace talks resumed in Quito the day after more than 9 million Colombians voted in legislative elections for congressional representatives as well as, the internal consultations of the right-wing Centro Democrático party in which candidate Iván Duque won a decisive victory. Former Bogotá mayor, Gustavo Petro also won the endorsement of his Colombia Humana party, defeating at the ballot, the centrist Santa Marta politician, Carlos Caicedo.
Voters also snubbed the candidates of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla, branded under their same acronym as the party of the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force. FARC received a paltry 0.34% of the national vote, but under the historic peace agreement signed back in 2016, are guaranteed five seats in both Congress and Senate.
In an interview Sunday with the Colombian daily, El Tiempo, Gustavo Bell remarked that both sides are working towards reaching an indefinite ceasefire. “They have repeatedly said that they do not get up from the negotiating table until they reach an agreement,” said Bell. “The ELN has shown that it can negotiate for a long time.”
In a negotiation in which three points of the peace agenda are “synchronized” with the Havana accord reached with FARC, Bell, also confirmed the possibility that ELN could sign a lasting peace agreement with the government of President Santos before the end of his term. “I believe that the negotiations have advanced to the point that they are politically irreversible,” said Bell.