World News

Colombia's ELN rebels call for 90-day bilateral ceasefire

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s biggest active guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), called for a bilateral ceasefire of at least 90 days to help fight the coronavirus pandemic and re-establish peace talks late on Tuesday.

The left-wing rebel group’s proposal came after the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution for a global ceasefire on July 1 to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“Taking into account Resolution 2532, which has the backing of Pope Francis, we call on President Ivan Duque to agree to a bilateral ceasefire for 90 days. Our diplomatic delegation, located in Havana, is empowered to process all operational details, “the ELN said in a statement.

“If this bilateral cessation is agreed, a climate of humanitarian harmony will be created which would favor the restart of peace talks between the Colombian government and the ELN,” the group added.

While the ELN has failed to reach a peace agreement with previous governments, its chief negotiator, Pablo Beltran, said in May the group was open to participating in the global three-month ceasefire.

“Our government will never fail to comply with the constitutional duty to face crime throughout our country,” Duque said in an update on Twitter. “The ELN is a terrorist group that has been a scourge on this country for decades.”

Made up of 2,000 fighters and considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, the ELN carried out an attack with a car bomb in January 2019 at a police academy in Bogota, killing 22 cadets.

The attack ended the possibility of talks with the government of President Ivan Duque.

The president has refused to enter negotiations with the guerrilla group until it stops kidnappings and recruiting minors, frees hostages it currently holds and stops attacking infrastructure - such as oil pipelines - in the Andean country.

Reporting by Oliver Griffin and Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Michael Perry