Many nations are urging the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Colombian government to resume the fifth circle of peace talks in Quito, Ecuador as Colombia braces for elections in May which would bring a new president that might not be as inclined to seek peace.
Countries acting as guarantors of the peace negotiations, which are Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Cuba, Norway and Venezuela, issued a statement Thursday requesting both sides to "begin the fifth round with the urgency that the situation warrants," adding "we can attest that both parties have expressed their willingness to overcome this moment and continue with the conversations towards peace."
Peace talks were suspended by the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos after his government claimed that members of the ELN had carried out several attacks against Colombian security forces and infrastructures shortly after the ceasefire agreement between the rebel movement and the government expired on Jan. 9.
The lead negotiator for the ELN, Israel Ramírez, said during a press conference in Quito Wednesday that "the incidents [...] happened in the midst of a complex situation of conflict," adding "the course of conversations to reach a political solution to the conflict should not be altered."
The European Union also joined the request to resume peace talks. On Thursday a spokesperson for Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU called ELN's actions against government forces "unacceptable," but stressed the importance of reaching a permanent cease fire.
Meanwhile in Colombia, unlike the pro-peace attitude by the international community, President Santos and the peace negotiations have come under intense scrutiny, just as was the case during the peace process with the FARC.
Right-wing politicians, who are in favor of continuing the armed conflict with country’s radical left-wing groups, are using the recent alleged attacks by the ELN against Colombian forces to discredit peace efforts.
Ivan Duque, presidential candidate backed by former President Alvaro Uribe, wrote on Twitter "we will not submit to terrorist pressure." He also said that "the violent ones cannot impose the agenda nor negotiate the Colombian state's institutions."
German Vargas, another presidential candidate charged the ELN of "extorting the government and the people," while Sergio Fajardo, who is being backed by Santos, has not commented on the issue.
Rodrigo Lodoño, presidential candidate for the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force, known as the FARC party, was one of the few voices demanding the Colombian government and the ELN resume peace talks, and urging them to fulfill the "moral obligation [...] to persist in the search of negotiated exits." Lodoño reminded both parts that peace must prevail in the face of specific events of violence, adding these must be investigated.
Lodoño has no real opportunity of reaching the presidency. Duque, Vargas and Fajardo are the runner-ups in Colombia's presidential elections, which will be held on May 27, 2018. The opinions, or lack thereof, of those most likely to become the next leader of the andean nation reveal the "urgency" of reaching a peace deal while Santos is still president.