Former Colombian President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Juan Manuel Santos Wednesday said the current administration headed by Iván Duque is interested in striking a peace deal with the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN) guerrillas.
Santos, who brokered the peace accord with the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) five years ago, said Duque would only move forward with a dialogue proposal after the ELN drops all criminal activities because in the current President's view it would be a mockery against his country to negotiate with a group which commits murders and kidnappings daily.
Negotiations with the ELN had been undertaken in the past but were dropped by the Government in January 2019 after an attack against a police academy.
I understand that President Duque is exploring ways to resume peace talks with the ELN, Santos said during an event to commemorate the five years since the signing of the peace agreement with the FARC. The former head of state also said he supported these new talks and hoped the United Nations would too.
Peace does not belong to anyone in particular, but all Colombians and the entire world and for it, we must work together until the end of our days, Santos insisted.
Meanwhile, Duque has insisted reaching peace requires a commitment that is not verbal or discursive, and that implies the liberation of all those kidnapped and putting an end to criminal acts.
But pretending to speak of peace while assassinating and kidnapping is a mockery of the Colombia that builds peace every day.
High Commissioner for Peace, Juan Camilo Restrepo insisted ”we have said it over and over again, that said armed group (the ELN) organized outside the law [needs to] cease its criminal activities, cease all kidnappings, cease the installation of antipersonnel mines, cease the recruitment of minors, cease its activities in the chain of drug trafficking, for any peace negotiation to move forward.
When this happens, the Colombian government is ready to take the appropriate steps, Restrepo explained.
Peace talks with the ELN began already under Santos administration, but Duque decided to halt them following the attack on the General Santander Cadet School on January 17, 2019, which left 23 people dead. Since then, Colombia has requested the extradition of ELN leaders such as Gabino” who were in Cuba at the time of the attack.
Santos' words came Wednesday during a ceremony marking the fifth anniversary of their FARC deal which was also attended by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres.