Colombia says pact reached with ELN rebels on displaced people

An Embera indigenous woman cooks in a makeshift camp at a national park in Bogotá, on February 7, 2022. (File photos: AFP)
An Embera indigenous woman cooks in a makeshift camp at a national park in Bogotá, on February 7, 2022. (File photos: AFP)
BOGOTÁ — Colombian President Gustavo Petro said Saturday the ELN rebel group has agreed to allow a displaced indigenous community to return to its lands in the west of the nation, the first significant achievement in 12 days of peace talks. اضافة اعلان

The ELN, or National Liberation Army, is the sole leftist insurgency yet to lay down weapons in Colombia.

“The first point of agreement that we reached with the ELN — in barely a week of these dialogues — is the return of the indigenous Embera people ... to their reservations,” Petro said in a public appearance in Dabeiba, a town in northwestern Colombia.

A general view of a makeshift camp of Colombian indigenous Embera in Bogotá, on August 12, 2020. 

Petro did not say when the Embera would return to their lands in the departments of Choco and Risaralda. They had fled violence between drug gangs, outlawed right-wing militias, and the ELN.

Many of the displaced Embera now live in Colombia’s capital and hold highly visible protests in parks, clashing frequently with police.

ELN delegates to the talks did not make any statements Saturday directly related to the humanitarian agreement on the Embera.

Talks between the government and the ELN broke off in 2019, following an attack in which 22 people were killed, but Petro, a leftist who took office in August, sent a team to resume them on November 21 in Venezuela.

No ceasefire yet
The talks continue even though there is no formal ceasefire between security forces and ELN fighters. Indepaz, a peace-building civic group, puts the number of ELN fighters at about 2,500.

Nevertheless, the ELN had pledged to allow “humanitarian relief processes” as part of a peace talks framework its leaders signed with the government of then-president Juan Manuel Santos in 2016.

That year, Santos signed a historic peace deal with Colombia’s largest and oldest insurgency, the FARC, that ended more than five decades of conflict. The FARC and ELN operated in different parts of the country.

While Colombia’s formal insurgencies have engaged in peace talks, criminal gangs involved in drug trafficking and illegal mining still afflict some areas of Colombia, the world’s main source for cocaine.    

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