Colombia’s Santos admits defeat in ELN rebels ceasefire talks

August 3, 2018

August, 1 2018 (Yahoo news)

Outgoing Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos admitted defeat on Wednesday after failing to secure a ceasefire with ELN Marxist guerrillas before handing over the reins to hardline right-wing successor Ivan Duque next week.

Santos had made it his goal to achieve a “complete peace” to end the 50-year conflict with left-wing rebels before stepping down on August 7.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the historic accord signed with FARC guerrillas in December 2016, ending their insurgency.

“We hope that the next government decides to continue” negotiating with the ELN, the last recognized armed group fighting government forces in Colombia, to “start a real and verifiable ceasefire,” said Santos.

More than 260,000 people have been killed, nearly 83,000 remain missing and some 7.4 million have been forced to flee their homes due to the conflict.

Santos said there was “very little missing” from an agreement, adding: “I would say 10 percent.”

He said the two parties had agreed on a “very well-defined” plan to implement a bilateral and temporary truce during talks in Havana on Tuesday evening, but that it lacked United Nations verification.

“To verify it you need protocols, very precise procedures, so that there are no misunderstandings,” said Santos.

He said the UN itself had insisted on the protocols as it would be monitoring the truce, alongside the Catholic Church.

– ‘Significant progress’ –

The two sides produced a joint statement saying that “although we haven’t reached full agreement…. in this cycle, significant progress has been made.”

The ELN’s delegation chief Pablo Beltran said he hoped these developments would form the “basis for work” to be carried out during Duque’s administration.

Duque, though, has promised a tougher negotiating stance towards the ELN.

Santos said it would have been “counterproductive to sign something that hasn’t been endorsed by the new government.”

He ordered his negotiators back to Bogota on Wednesday to brief the new regime on the state of the discussions, which began in 2017.

But he said negotiations were “very advanced” when his team left Cuba.

Beltran said a ceasefire was necessary to allow citizens to participate in the peace process.

Santos, though, admitted that he didn’t feel “totally satisfied because effectively we haven’t arrived at a ceasefire agreement.”

It remains a political defeat for the former journalist who sacrificed his domestic popularity in the quest for a lasting resolution to the conflict.

The 66-year-old had hoped he could make significant progress in convincing the ELN to lay down their weapons before stepping down on August 7.

– ‘There is peace’ –

But he baulked at suggestions that he failed to achieve “complete peace.”

“What we’re delivering, and what all the international organizations say, is that it’s a very complete peace, very deep. This agreement with FARC has no precedent in any other country,” Santos told AFP earlier this week.

He insisted, too, that he would be remembered more for the FARC deal — that turned the former rebels into a political party — than the ELN failure.

“My legacy will defend itself, you can see the results,” he said. “There is peace, the FARC is a political party, it’s there.

“It’s the Colombian people that will defend peace because it’s not my peace, nor that of my government, but of all Colombians.”

Duque, though, has been singing from a very different hymn sheet, creating uncertainty not just over potential peace with the ELN but also surrounding the existing pact’s durability.

Upon his election in June he vowed to make “corrections” to the FARC peace deal, which he criticized for being too lenient on the former rebels.

He’s already announced a controversial appointment as his new defense minister, adding to the uncertainty.

Guillermo Botero, a 70-year-old lawyer and entrepreneur with no experience in security matters, has been a vocal critic of the peace accord.

Ex-leftist guerrillas took up seats in Congress for the first time on July 20, although former rebel commander Ivan Marquez was not amongst them as he protested what he described as government “betrayal” over the arrest of fellow ex-FARC leader Jesus Santrich, who was likewise due to take a seat in Congress.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos says an attempt to negotiate a ceasefire with ELN rebels before he leaves office has failed