Despite the ceasefire agreement between the Colombian government and the Colombian National Army (ELN) on June 9 in Havana, Cuba, the armed group indicated that it will continue with kidnappings as they are not explicitly prohibited in the agreement. The “bilateral, national, and temporary” ceasefire, the result of several months of negotiations, will come into effect on August 3 for a period of 180 days, that is until February 3, 2024. It is the longest agreement made between the two sides since the guerrilla was formed in the 1960s, the BBC reported.
“In this type of process, there must be clear incentives for the guerrillas to negotiate on military matters,” Jorge Mantilla, a national security and defense expert at the Colombian War College, told Diálogo. “Otherwise, the authorities should think that just as in the peace process with the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia], they will also have dissident groups to fight.”
According to ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltrán, kidnappings, as well as extortion, are part of the armed group’s finances and will be maintained if necessary. “Generally, we don’t talk about kidnappings, we talk about retentions. If they are not necessary, they will not be done,” Beltrán told the press after the ceasefire was signed with the Colombian government.
Days later, on June 14, the Colombian Army faulted the ELN for the kidnapping of two people in the department of Arauca: the wife of a service member assigned to the Army’s Task Force Quirón and a public transport driver. In a statement, the Army said it “categorically rejects this criminal act that violates human rights and violates the provisions of international law.”
Although kidnappings were not explicitly prohibited in the protocols of the agreed ceasefire, discussions about the financing of the ELN will continue, Beltrán told the press. The Colombian government however considers kidnappings a “war crime.”
Otty Patiño, Colombian government chief negotiator, told the Spanish news agency EFE that, for the time being, in the protocol of the agreement, both parties commit themselves not to carry out actions prohibited under international humanitarian law.
The kidnapping “means risks of a political order, of a legal order, and moral risks in the sense that people are beginning not to believe much in the ELN’s will,” Patiño said, Argentine news site Infobae reported. “Even if it is not expressly written in the ceasefire, people imagine that they are in a process of decommissioning weapons to do politics and then, of course, that also highly undermines people’s confidence.”
Gustavo Duncan, a Colombian professor at the Los Andes University in Bogotá and a narcotrafficking and armed conflict expert, told Diálogo that at present there is no clear sense of progress toward a peace process with the ELN, unlike with other criminal organizations.
“The government delegation faces a panorama of negotiation with a guerrilla group that in a new intelligence report registered 131 military actions against the civilian population and the security forces, from January 2023 to April 27,” international news outlet Publimetro reported.
For the Colombian Armed Forces the implementation of the ceasefire means in a first phase, dubbed Technical Readiness, continuing with military operations against illegal activities such as narcotrafficking, illegal mining, arms trafficking, and related crimes that ELN members are engaged in, until August 2, Infobae reported. They must also comply with existing arrest warrants for members of the armed group.
The suspension of operations will be made by order of President Gustavo Petro, scheduled for August 3.