Colombia’s ELN rebels announce end-of-year ceasefire

Truce will last from Saturday to January 2, leftist rebels say, as peace talks with Bogota are set to resume next month.

Colombia’s largest remaining rebel group has announced a unilateral ceasefire over the end-of-year holiday period, a week after the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Colombian government concluded a first round of peace negotiations.

An ELN spokesperson said in a video shared on social media on Monday that the ceasefire would last from 6am (11:00 GMT) on Saturday, which is Christmas Eve, to the same time on January 2.

The ceasefire only covers the “military forces and the state police” said the spokesperson, saying ELN fighters reserve the right to defend themselves if they are attacked.

The United Nations special representative to Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, welcomed the announcement, saying on Twitter that he trusts the ceasefire will help “alleviate suffering and improve the humanitarian situation”.

Representatives of the leftist rebel group and the government began peace talks in neighbouring Venezuela last month in an effort to end a decades-long conflict that has killed more than 450,000 people.

The South American nation has seen an uptick in violence in recent years, especially in areas where armed groups are battling for control over drug trafficking routes and other illicit activities.

The talks were held after Gustavo Petro – Colombia’s first left-wing president, who took office in August – had promised to pursue a “total peace” plan for the country, including holding talks with armed groups.

Petro’s right-wing predecessor, Ivan Duque, broke off negotiations with the ELN, a group that is believed to have about 4,000 fighters in Colombia and neighbouring Venezuela, in 2019 after a car bombing killed 22 police cadets.

While a formal ceasefire was not reached in the first round of talks between Bogota and the ELN, the two sides promised on December 12 to “implement a partial agreement for emergency care” to begin in January in several areas worst hit by violence.

Defence Minister Ivan Velasquez said there had been a “noticeable drop in operations” by the ELN since the peace talks resumed.

The talks also led to an agreement this month to allow displaced Indigenous Embera people to return to their homes in western Colombia, which they fled due to increased attacks and insecurity.

Mexico, which has agreed to be an official guarantor of the ELN-Colombia talks, will hold the next round of negotiations starting next month.

Pablo Beltran, the rebel group’s chief negotiator, said last week that he hoped a ceasefire could be agreed upon during the next round.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies