Colombia’s peace process must resolve the causes of the conflict – ELN rebel commander

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The commander-in-chief of Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group, which is considering a resumption of peace talks with the leftist government, told Reuters that any process must seek deep change for the whole of society and not political power for some guerrilla commanders. New President Gustavo Petro, a former member of the M-19 urban guerrillas, has vowed to seek “total peace” by fully implementing a 2016 peace accord with now demobilized FARC rebels, relaunching peace talks. the ELN and engaging with criminal gangs.

“What is essential for a peace process is to overcome the causes that are at the origin of the armed conflict, even to think that they are overcome with a few seats (in Congress) for a handful of rebels would be miserly” , said Eliecer Herlinto Chamorro, better known by his nom de guerre, Antonio Garcia. He was responding to questions sent by Reuters on whether the ELN would become a political party after a peace deal.

The FARC deal saw the demobilization of its 13,000 members and the creation of the Comunes political party, which has 10 guaranteed congressional seats until 2026 that have been awarded to former guerrilla leaders. “It is about achieving real change for the good of all of society, real and participatory democracy for communities and social organizations, to make Colombian society more equitable, with social justice, respect for the rights of the Man, this political persecution of those protesting for just rights and the killings of leaders definitely stops,” Garcia said.

Lack of access to land, deep economic inequalities, historic persecution of leftists and lack of democratic participation are seen as the main causes of Colombia’s six-decade conflict between the government, left-wing rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and the drug gangs, which killed at least 450,000 people. people. UNITED FRONT

Garcia, 66, said the demobilization of the ELN – accused of forced recruitment of minors, drug trafficking, murders, kidnappings and bombings – will be resolved at the negotiating table. Although Petro has said talks should be conducted quickly, the quality of any deal will be a variable when determining the timing of negotiations, Garcia said.

The most recent talks with the ELN collapsed under Petro’s predecessor, after the group refused to suspend armed action and killed 22 police cadets in a bomb attack in early 2019. Other attempts at dialogue have failed due to a diffuse chain of command and divisiveness within the ranks of the ELN, which was founded by radical Catholic priests in 1964 and has some 2,400 fighters .

There is a precedent for rebel resistance to peace agreements – several senior FARC commanders reject the agreement and remain armed in splinter groups, which Petro also wants to engage with. But Garcia said the eight ELN units operating in Colombia’s jungles and mountains are united with their negotiators – many of whom are elderly, unlike most of the fighters – who remained in Cuba after talks broke down. previous ones.

“The ELN remains united by its political identity and its democratic methods to build policy constructively and try to resolve differences,” he said, echoing recent comments by the group’s chief negotiator in Havana. . “We will remain united, this is the decision of the last (rebel) congress, and we will face all challenges united.” Garcia said deep changes are needed in Colombia – where about half the population lives in some degree of poverty – but those in power must be held to account first.

“Even though the country needs adjustments to its fundamental laws, what affects us the most is the disregard of the laws by those in power,” he said.

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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