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Colombia's ELN group call ceasefire over COVID-19

Senior commanders of left-wing rebel group asks government to meet with his delegates in Havana, Cuba in April

Laura Gamba   | 30.03.2020
Colombia's ELN group call ceasefire over COVID-19 FILE PHOTO

BOGOTA, Colombia 

The National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group announced on Monday a ceasefire for a month starting on April 1 as the country grapples with the rise in coronavirus cases.

"Considering the humanitarian crisis generated by this pandemic, the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), Antonio Guterres, called for an immediate global ceasefire in all armed conflicts around the world. In accordance with this directive, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, special representative of the Secretary General and head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, addressed the ELN on March 26," the ELN said in a statement in which the group claimed "it reserved the right to defend itself against attacks by the armed forces."

In the 15-point statement, the central command called on President Ivan Duque to ask the peace delegates to meet with rebel group leaders in Havana, Cuba during April to start negotiations for "a bilateral and temporary cease fire".

It also called on the government to implement various economic reliefs and to release inmates from prisons in an effort to address the humanitarian crisis in the country's prison system.

A year ago the left-wing rebel group declared its last ceasefire, but the Duque government put an end to negotiations in January 2019 after the guerrilla group killed 22 people and injured many more in a car bomb blast at General Santander Police Academy in Colombia's capital, Bogota.

The announcement of a unilateral ceasefire by the ELN coincides with the Duque government appointing Felipe Torres and Francisco Galan as peace promoters Sunday.

Torres and Galan are two former guerrilla members who laid down their arms several years ago and have been mediators between the guerrilla group and the government. Duque had taken away their role as negotiators after the terrorist attack on the police academy a year ago.

Duque, who has repeatedly said that for peace talks to start again the ELN would have to give up its criminal activities, is seeking to resume their role as bridge builders to contribute to a new negotiation between the parties.

The South American country that is under a 19-day national lockdown reports 702 cases of COVID-19 and 10 fatalities so far.

There are 741,000 confirmed coronavirus infections worldwide, and 35,100 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University's data dashboard.

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