Colombia Govt, ELN Sign Ceasefire Amid Growing Dissidence

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The government of Colombia and the country’s largest remaining guerrilla group have agreed to a bilateral ceasefire, but the rebels’ lack of unity may make enforcement difficult.

On September 4, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the ceasefire with the National Liberation Army (Ejército Nacional de Liberación – ELN) will begin on October 1, and last until January 12, 2018.

In addition to halting attacks on Colombian security forces, the ELN will also be expected to stop targeting civilians with kidnappings, destroying infrastructure, recruiting minors and laying down landmines. 

“The priority is to protect citizens,” the president said.

For its part, the Colombian government has promised to suspend military operations against the group, to provide protection for social leaders who are being killed in large numbers, and to improve conditions for imprisoned guerrillas.

The announcement comes just days before a visit to Colombia by Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church. The church has backed the peace process between the government and the ELN’s guerrilla counterparts, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC), who signed a peace deal last year. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of FARC Peace

A joint statement published on Twitter says that the ceasefire will be monitored by a body backed by the Colombian government, the ELN, the United Nations and the Catholic Church.*

InSight Crime Analysis

Although the ELN has argued vehemently for a bilateral ceasefire as a measure that could build confidence in the peace negotiations, it has struggled to demonstrate that it can control its rank and file. Criminal activities by guerrillas — particularly kidnapping — could be considered violations of the ceasefire agreement, if they continue.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of ELN Peace

And even if a deal should eventually be reached, InSight Crime’s reporting suggests that many members of the group may choose to defect from the peace process in order to continue engaging in lucrative illicit activities like drug trafficking and illegal mining.

It will be important for ELN negotiators to deliver more concrete advances like the ceasefire agreement in order to build confidence among the ranks about the viability of the negotiations. However, as the process with the FARC illustrated, the issue of post-peace criminalization is a crucial theme that must be addressed by both sides in order to mitigate the likelihood of dissidence. 

* This piece has been updated to include the document released by the Colombian government.

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