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Columbia’s Biggest Rebel Group Agrees to Ceasefire

The Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) agreed to a bilateral, 6-month ceasefire that will begin on August 3. 

Guarantor nations for the negotiations include Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Norway, and Venezuela.  

"On Aug. 3, 2023, the full implementation ... of the national and temporary bilateral ceasefire will begin with the full application of the protocols and the full operation of the monitoring and verification mechanism," Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba’s foreign minister who spoke on behalf of the participants, said in Reuters.

Months of negotiations took place in Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela. The first round of negotiations took place in December in Caracas, Venezuela followed by another meeting in Mexico City. The final negotiations began in May and were discussed in Havana, Cuba. The deal was finally ratified on Friday in a ceremony in Havana that included the Columbian president Gustavo Petro, Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel, and the ELN chief commander who is known as “Antonio Garcia”. 

"The price we have paid is high, but we do not regret it," Diaz-Canel said in Reuters.

This deal is the largest agreed-upon ceasefire since the group formed in 1963. The ELN is one of the oldest and largest operating guerilla groups still operating in the country. It was founded by union leaders, students, and priests who were inspired by the Cuban revolution.

The rebel group has often engaged in confrontations with Colombian authorities and citizens and operates in various areas throughout the South American country. Approximately 450,000 people have been killed in the six decades the group has been in operation. 

The group is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. They have also been accused of producing and trafficking drugs such as cocaine in order to fund their operation. 

“This effort to look for peace is a light of hope that conflicts can be solved politically and diplomatically,” top rebel negotiator Pablo Beltrán for the ELN said at the ceremony according to NBC.

Negotiations have been extremely hard to mitigate due to the group’s combative nature. The last ceasefire was between Columbia and another rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC), which took place in 2016 and ended five decades of conflict that cost 260,000 people their lives. The group was officially dismantled in 2017. 

In January 2019, former Colombian president Ivan Duque attempted to negotiate a ceasefire between the government and ELN. Peace talks were suspended after the group killed 22 cadets in an attack against a police academy in Bogota. 

"Here ends a phase of armed insurgency in Latin America," Petro told participants at the closing ceremony in Havana. "The world of arms, and of killing one another ... must cease."

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