The ELN asked Wednesday the government to maintain the peace negotiations after it decided to remove its peace delegations from Quito in response to violent attacks that broke the cease fire agreed a few months earlier.
“The incidents that happened earlier today in the east of the country occurred in a complex situation of conflict that Colombia has been going through,” said the rebels in a communique.
“Despite these incidents, the negotiations should not be detained in a bid to find a political exit for the conflict,” they added.
Pablo Beltran, chief ELN negotiator in Quito, said the group had adhered to the conditions of the ceasefire and that the two sides had always agreed to evaluate new terms after the 101-day truce expired.
"We're seeking a response from the government to see if it's interested in finding a way out of this incident. If there's a positive response, the ELN delegation will remain in Quito," Beltran said. "But if there's no positive response we will have to return to Colombia."
Colombian politicians, together with international organizations unite in a push for the continuation of the bilateral ceasefire negotiations following the president’s announcement earlier today to suspend further peace talks.
Presidential candidates and United Nations representatives rally in support of the peace talks, questioning the motives behind the President Juan Manuel Santos’s willingness to resume the violent conflict which has torn across the country for over 50. Some have said it could be due to the movement's low popularity and the impending presidential elections.
“It is a strategic mistake to interrupt the ceasefire. Verification improvements can be negotiated in the middle of de-escalation of the conflict. We can not turn back. Adelante @EquipoPazGob, to reach a peace agreement!,” tweeted presidential candidate Clara Lopez Obregon, the representative of the democratic socialist party, the Alternative Democratic Pole.
Speculations surround the president’s decision to drop negotiations which was announced via his official Twitter account. The president denounced the sudden flare of violent attacks perpetrated by rebel forces just hours after the bilateral ceasefire expired and chances for an extension of peace were obliterated.
The president wrote that his administration, unlike guerrilla group ELN (National Liberation Army), had always been willing to extend the ceasefire, but would now be recalling its chief negotiator from Quito, Ecuador where the talks would have been held Wednesday.
“Peace is a fundamental right by which we must give everything. Colombia claims to overcome the era of fear, hatred and death. The bilateral cease with @ELN_Paz must be maintained @JuanManSantos,” tweeted the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a former rebel group turned political party which signed its own peace treaty in 2016.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrives for the first time to Colombia since taking office on January 13 and 14 at the invitation of the president. He said he plans to address the bilateral ceasefire and the number of human rights abuses which have continued to climb despite the existence of a special political mission from the UN.
From his Twitter account, presidential candidate Piedad Cordoba said she was at the government’s disposal, offered her support and experience to attain peace.
“Colombia demands Peace. I call on the Government and the ELN to listen to the voice of the people, decree a bilateral ceasefire and resume the path of negotiations and dialogue. The future is of the brave,” Cordoba said.
“We must make an effort to explain to Colombians the supreme importance of this peace process for the whole country. We are absolutely affected by it all,” she continued.
According to figures from the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (Indepaz), 170 community leaders died during the course of 2017, primarily due to paramilitary forces which infiltrated the vacated regions formerly populated by ELN militants.
In a recent study conducted by the Front Line Defenders organization, it was estimated that 30 percent of murders against human rights defenders during 2017 took place in Colombia.