Representatives of the ELN, founded in 1964 by radical Catholic priests, have remained in Cuba since previous talks, which began under Juan Manuel Santos’ government, were called off in 2019.
Soon after Petro’s election, the group stated that it was open to talks.
Petro has stated that a visit to Cuba by Colombian and international officials this month was intended to ascertain whether the ELN, which is viewed as radical and not centrally controlled, is truly willing to pursue a peace process.
Colombia’s high peace commissioner, Danilo Rueda, travelled to Cuba with Foreign Minister Alvaro Leyva, Senator Ivan Cepeda, U.N. official Carlos Ruiz Massieu, and a Norwegian government representative.
According to Petro, Rueda has the authority to investigate the possibility of talks as well as whether ceasefires and other measures could be established.
The Colombian president stated that discussions could resume where the Santos administration left off, and that he would recognise the protocols reached with the assistance of guarantors Cuba, Chile, Venezuela, Norway, and Brazil.
Talks between the ELN and the Santos government began in Ecuador and later moved to Cuba, but were terminated by Santos’ successor Ivan Duque after the ELN refused to halt hostilities and killed 22 police cadets in a bomb attack in Bogota.
Previous attempts at negotiations with the ELN, which has approximately 2,400 combatants and is accused of financing itself through drug trafficking, illegal mining, and kidnapping, have failed, in part due to internal dissent.
Many of the ELN’s leaders in Cuba are older than many of its members, and it is unclear how much influence they have over units operating deep in Colombia’s countryside.
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