Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN), having just concluded a ceasefire with the government, has passed on a letter from the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPL) to President Juan Manuel Santos, proposing a similar peace dialogue. The letter states that the EPL, Colombia's third guerilla group after the ELN and now-disarmed FARC, "recongizes that peace...is the living aspiration of the majority of Colombians" and seeks to explore "possible paths to the termination of the war and conquest of a true peace with social justice." Among conditions for peace, the letter lists an internationally monitored ceasefire, an end to government bombardment of guerilla zones, demilitarization of the countryside, and dismantling of the National Police anti-riot squad ESMAD. The letter also broaches a constitutional convention with "broader participation and representation of the people" to draft a new national charter. (El Colombiano, Oct. 5; El Espectador, Oct. 4)
Guerilla commander Nicolás Rodríguez AKA "Gabino" has issued orders to his National Liberation Army (ELN) fighters to honor the bilateral ceasefire that is to take effect on Oct. 1. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he hoped the ceasefire would lead to the ELN laying down arms, as happened with the FARC. But these statements came just days after yet another rupture on the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline, which government negotiator Juan Camilo Restrepo blamed on the ELN. "The ELN's actions in recent days are truly insensitive and unexplainable and, of course, reprehensible because we are facing an ecological crime of enormous magnitudes," Restrepo told Caracol Radio. The rupture, at Teorama, Norte de Santander, spilled oil into La Cristalina and La Tiradera canyons, which drain into the Río Catatumbo. (Reuters, Sept. 29, EFE, RTTNews, Sept. 28; Semana, Sept. 27)
The Colombian government signed a ceasefire with the National Liberation Army (ELN) after a third round of peace talks in Ecuador's capital Quito Sept. 4. The first-ever bilateral ceasefire in the 53-year history of the guerilla organization came two days before Pope Francis is to arrive in Colombia. The ceasefire is to formally take effect Oct. 1, to be renewed in January if peace talks continue to progress. As part of the deal, Colombia's government pledged to suspend military operations against the group, improve conditions for imprisoned ELN members, and protect human rights defenders. (El Espectador, Las 2 Orillas, Jurist)
A powerful explosion ripped through an upscale shopping mall in Bogotá's Zona Rosa June 17, leaving at least three dead—all women—and almost a dozen injured. One of the dead was a 23-year-old French woman, who was working in Colombia as a volunteer teacher. Officials said the presumed bomb had been placed in the women's bathroom on the second floor of the Andino shopping center. Both of Colombia's guerilla groups denied responsibility for the attack. "Solidarity with today's victims in Bogotá. This act could have been done only by those who want to close the path of peace and reconciliation," FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño AKA "Timochenko" wrote on his Twitter. account. The ELN guerilla army condemned the attack on its own Twitter page, calling on the government to "identify those responsible."
The FARC guerillas on March 1 began the process of turning over their weapons at the 26 "transitional camps" established for the purpose around the country. The UN Mission in Colombia reported that some 320 guerilla fighters surrendered their weapons, initiating the disarmament process that is slated to continue through May. (El Tiempo, March 2) There is a palbable sense of de-escalation in many areas of Colombia long plagued by war and political violence. The mayor of Ituango, Antioquia department, Hernán Álvarez, reported that there is "an atmosphere of peace and tranquility" for the first time in many years in the municipality that has seen horrific human rights violations at the hands of paramilitaries and other armed actors over the past generation. (Prensa Rural, Feb. 28) Afro-Colombian residents of Cacarica, Chocó, a self-declared "peace community" that has for the past 20 years refused cooperation with all armed actors, held a ceremony in the village Feb. 24, celebrating the return of some 6,000 displaced community members to their homes, and honoring those slain over the past years of bloodshed. (Contagio Radio, Feb. 28)
The "demobilization" of the FARC guerillas was declared complete this week, as the last 300 rebel fighters arrived at one of the transition camps in Cauca. In what was called the "FARC's last march,' an estimated 6,900 arrived by foot, boat or bus at the 26 Veredal Zones of Transition to Normalization (ZVTN) in rural areas of the country. The demobilization has seen scattered incidents of violence, including a Feb. 21 shoot-out between guerilla fighters that left two injured at a sporting match in the ZVTN at Buenos Aires, Cauca. The FARC carried out the demobilization under protest, charging that the government was failing to live up to commitments, including providing sufficient aid to the ZVTNs and restraining right-wing paramilitary groups. (El Espectador, Feb. 21; BBC News, Feb. 19; El Espectador, Jan. 30)
Colombian authorities are blaming ELN guerillas in a wave of armed attacks on security forces in Arauca department—including the Dec. 18 ambush of an army patrol that left two soliders dead at Saravena. The ELN is also suspected in a spate of other recent attacks around the country—including a Dec. 29 blast at a power station at Torca, north of Bogotá, that left one National Police officer dead. (El Tiempo, Radio Caracol, Radio Caracol, Dec. 29; El Tiempo, Radio Caracol, Dec. 27; AFP, Dec. 19) The attacks come days after Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas warned that the window for initiating peace talks with the ELN "will not be open forever." (El Espectador, Dec. 23) In a year-end communique, the ELN blamed the government for the "difficult and anti-peace climate," especially in its refusal to accept a bilateral ceasefire. But it said the ELN remains committed to opening peace talks, and will meet again with a government delegation Jan. 10 in Quito. (El Tiempo, Dec. 26)
With Colombia's Congress voting to approve the revised peace accord with the FARC rebels, the country is on a countdown to the full demobilization of the guerilla army. Both houses voted unanimously—75-0 in the Senate Nov. 30, and 130-0 in the Chamber of Deputies the following day. house ratified the pact a day after it was endorsed by the Senate, despite objections from the opposition. The agreement was approved in the lower house by 130-0, a day after the Senate ratified it 75-0. Lawmakers from Alvaro Uribe's hard-right opposition bloc walked out of both houses in protest before the votes were taken. President Juan Manuel Santos said that Dec. 1 is "D-Day," with the pact to be instituted immediately.