At 12:00 on Wednesday morning the bilateral ceasefire between the rebels and government forces ended with members of the National Liberation Army, ELN, declaring their interest in maintaining the ceasefire and continuing the non-aggression pact.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has, however, announced that he would recall his chief negotiator, Gustavo Bell, from the fifth round of peace talks with the group after accusing their members of resuming attacks.
“This morning I reiterated to our Armed Forces to act with force and to respond to this aggression by the ELN. My commitment to peace will be unwavering, but this comes with concrete facts, not just words,” the president tweet Wednesday.
Santos also said the government was “always willing to extend the ceasefire” with the major rebel military group, but that they had “inexplicably refused and today terrorist attacks resumed.”
Santos' claims, however, go against the actions and all communications from the ELN, who has in the days and weeks leading up to talks in Quito, Ecuador, declared its interest in maintaining the ceasefire, provided there was no further aggression against social leaders and human rights activists. A point which they say was pivotal to the agreement’s ultimate failure.
Between Dec. 29, 2017 and Jan. 3, 2018, at least 14 people have been killed in the city of Tumaco by paramilitaries. The country's Ombudsman’s Office issued two alerts Tuesday on the rise in violence in the Tumaco municipality which mainly affects Indigenous, Black and campesino leaders who face “threats, homicides, confinement and forced displacement."
The fifth round of peace talks was scheduled to begin Wednesday morning in Quito, Ecuador to renegotiate the terms of the bilateral peace agreement in an attempt to avoid the continuation of the 53 years of conflict.
"We have reached an important stage that is to develop the talks in the midst of the bilateral cessation. We are going to try to maintain that, meanwhile, we hope that there will not be an escalation of offensive," said ELN rebel leader Pablo Beltran.
Beltrán said that both the ELN and the Government failed to commit to the agreement, explicitly mentioning the murder of a Chocoan social leader and the government’s refusal to verify the details of genocide in Tumaco, where the Public Forces killed several peasants. These, he said, were two incidents which negatively affected the ceasefire.
Beltran added that re-evaluating the sections of the agreement which fell through is key to the new round of negotiations and in affording the best mode of action for both parties.
Colombian Democratic Senator Ivan Cepeda urged presidential candidates to support the bilateral movement and utilize their influence as politicians to facilitate the motion.
Through an open letter, the Colombian senator indicated that it is essential to negotiate a new agreement which upholds human rights and humanitarian relief as well as establishes a climate of tranquility to allow progress.