Colombia’s EPL Is Latest Armed Group to Seek Talks With Authorities

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Colombia’s EPL has offered to enter into peace negotiations with the government similar to those that have been held with other armed groups, but it is unlikely that authorities will deem the deeply criminalized organization a political actor deserving of a formal peace process.

The proposal by the Popular Liberation Army (Ejército Popular de Liberación – EPL) was transmitted in the form of an open letter signed on October 2 and addressed to President Juan Manuel Santos.

The letter was reportedly delivered by the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), which is currently engaged in peace negotiations with the government.

The EPL acknowledged that the government has failed to comply with various aspects of a peace deal struck last year with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC). Nevertheless, the EPL expressed its “willingness to discuss and find the possible means to end the war and conquer a true peace with social justice.”

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the EPL

The EPL rejected the government’s decision to label the group a criminal band, or BACRIM, maintaining instead that it is a political rebel movement like the FARC and ELN.

Vice President Óscar Naranjo, however, said that the government still considers the EPL a purely criminal actor and that the group’s only option remains surrendering to the authorities.

“The government is ready to prepare a surrender in the sense that there are no political or judicial negotiations, simply ordinary justice,” the vice president said in comments reported by El Colombiano.

The EPL’s open letter also establishes prerequisites for potential negotiations, including a bilateral ceasefire and an end to aerial bombings by the army, which were authorized by the government in May last year.

InSight Crime Analysis

The EPL has called for peace talks in the past, most recently in 2014. However, the group’s criminalization since the demobilization of most of its members in 1991 has proven to be an obstacle to negotiations, and this will likely continue to be the case.

Under the leadership of the late Victor Ramon Navarro Serrano, alias “Megateo,” the EPL’s deepened involvement in drug trafficking relegated its original leftist political agenda to the background. Thus it seems likely that any potential discussions between the government and the EPL would not resemble those carried out with the FARC and ELN. Rather, as Vice President Naranjo stated, they would probably unfold along similar lines as talks undertaken with other BACRIM groups like the Urabeños, which recently offered to negotiate its surrender.

The EPL’s proposal for peace negotiations may be related to a ceasefire that was recently reached between the government and the ELN. Both the EPL and ELN operate in similar areas, meaning the EPL may be worried of increased government action against the group as the ceasefire frees up security forces. Indeed, the EPL sent their letter seeking talks the day after the ELN ceasefire took effect.

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