By: Emily Green
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BOGOTA, Colombia — Peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) were suspended on Monday in response to a series of bomb attacks over the weekend. The leftist rebel group killed several police officers and wounded many more.

Members of the ELN in Colombia. Image Courtesy of Luis Robayo.

The homemade bombs were placed in a police station during a shift change in Barranquila, a northern Colombian town. As a result, five police officers died and more than 40 were wounded. Two more died from another bomb attack just four hours later.

This occurred in the wake of peace talks which began in February 2017 and ended the five-decade war. The bombing is the second time this month that negotiations between the government and the rebel group have been paused. Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said, “My patience and the patience of the Colombian people has its limits, so I have taken the decision to suspend the start of the fifth cycle of negotiations, which was scheduled for the coming days, until we see coherence between the ELN’s words and its actions.”

The ELN is a guerrilla organization and faction of the National Liberation Army. Even though the other rebel group, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have signed a peace deal with the government, guerrillas of the ELN  seem determined to continue their long battle against the state. It opposes the presence of foreign companies in Colombia and regularly bombs pipelines and other oil infrastructures.

In contrast, members of FARC have embraced peace and moved into politics. The large rebel group has launched its campaign for the presidency under the leadership of its former commander, Rodrigo Londono. However, his opening campaign speech was largely overshadowed by the rebel attacks. Other presidential candidates denounce him for being too soft on both FARC and ELN guerillas.

Few politicians support this peace deal. It remains an issue among Colombians and was rejected in a 2016 referendum. President Santos has only months left in his term and it is unlikely that he will succeed in ending the conflict with the ELN. The deputy director of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, Ariel Avila, remarked, “The ELN know that this government only has five months left — there’s nothing for them to negotiate with this government, so they say why bother?”

On Monday, the ELN issued a statement expressing support for the peace talks and a cease-fire. However, it says that “military actions will continue taking place on each side” in the absence of any agreement.

For more information, please see:

Telesur – Colombian Rebels Call for New Ceasefire, Renewed Peace Talks – 31 January 2018

Colombia Reports – Santos suspends talks with ELN after deadly attacks in northern Colombia – 29 January 2018

NPR – Colombian President Pauses Peace Talks With Rebel Group, ELN – 29 January 2018

NYT – In Colombia, Two Rebel Groups Take Different Paths – 29 January 2018

Voice of America – Colombia Suspends Peace Talks With ELN Rebels After Bomb Attacks – 29 January 2018

Author: Emily Green