Colombia agrees with ELN rebel group to extend truce

The two sides have agreed to extend a landmark deal struck in August last year that expired last week.

FILE - Colombian President Gustavo Petro holds a ceremony to formally begin a six-month cease-fire as part of a process to forge permanent peace with the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Bogota, Colombia, Aug. 3, 2023. Colombia’s government has extended a cease-fire with the FARC-EMC rebel group that was set to expire in Jan. 2024, as both sides hold peace talks in Bogota in an effort to reduce violence in rural parts of the country. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia, File)
Colombian President Gustavo Petro and the National Liberation Army (ELN) announced the extension of a six-month ceasefire [Ivan Valencia/AP]

Colombia has agreed with The National Liberation Army (ELN) to extend a landmark truce deal that expired last week.

The government in Caracas said on Tuesday that it has agreed with Colombia’s largest remaining armed rebel group to extend the suspension of conflict by six months. The deal offers further hope of an end to decades of violence.

President Gustavo Petro signed in August last year a deal with ELN for a 180-day halt in fighting following lengthy negotiations. The truce was lengthened by five days after it expired last week.

The parties released separate statements early on Tuesday announcing a further six-month extension.

We have agreed to extend, starting at 00:00 [05:00 GMT] on February 6, 2024, for one hundred and eighty (180) days, the Bilateral, National and Temporary Ceasefire (CFBNT).

Government support to replace kidnapping?

Colombia has suffered more than half a century of conflict between the government and various left- and right-wing armed groups, as well as drug traffickers.

ELN started in 1964 as a leftist ideological movement by students, union leaders and priests inspired by Cuba’s revolution. It is believed to have about 4,000 fighters in Colombia, and is also present in Venezuela, where it runs illegal gold mines and drug trafficking routes.

It is also known for staging kidnappings for ransom and attacks on oil infrastructure. The United States and the European Union have listed it as a “terrorist” organisation.

Under the deal, ELN agreed to suspend kidnapping, leading it to ask the government for financial support to replace lost revenue.

The armed group said it will “unilaterally and temporarily suspend economic detentions, a commitment that will be followed up by the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism”.

Long road to truce

In 2016, a peace agreement disbanded the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC. That made ELN the country’s largest remaining rebel group. It has since increased its activities in territories formerly under FARC control.

In 2019, peace talks with ELN were called off by conservative former President Ivan Duque after a car bomb attack on a police academy in Bogota that killed 22 people.

Talks between Bogota and the ELN were relaunched in November 2022 in neighbouring Venezuela. Several rounds of peace talks have followed, with the process supported by Mexico, Norway, Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil and Chile as guarantors.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies