ELN rebels declare virus ceasefire after UN plea
March 30 2020 10:51 PM
Firefighters, soldiers
Firefighters, soldiers and workers from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) set up a temporary hospital to care for those infected with coronavirus in Cucuta, Colombia, on the border with Venezuela.


The leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group in Colombia yesterday declared a unilateral ceasefire for a month starting on April 1 in an effort to support the fight against the novel coronavirus.
“The National Liberation Army considers it prudent to declare an active unilateral cease-fire for one month, until April 30, in a humanitarian gesture from the ELN to the Colombian people, who are suffering from the devastation of the coronavirus,” the leftist rebel group said in a statement published on its website.
The group added that it reserved the right to defend itself if attacked by state forces.
The group called on the government of President Ivan Duque to engage in dialogue about a possible extension of the ceasefire.
The news comes one week after United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres called for an immediate global ceasefire to protect war-ravaged communities from the coronavirus pandemic.
Health authorities in the Andean country have reported 702 cases and 10 deaths of Covid-19, which has been described as a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
The Norwegian foreign ministry, which has for several years been involved in efforts to facilitate talks between the Colombian government and the ELN, referred to the news as “encouraging.”
“It is encouraging that the ELN has declared a unilateral ceasefire to combat the common threat Covid-19 represents,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide said, adding that she hoped other armed groups would follow suit.
Talks between the Colombian government and the ELN were suspended in January 2019 after the leftist guerillas killed 22 people in a car bombing at a Bogota police academy.
The ELN, a rebel group with about 2,000 combatants, has carried out dozens of attacks in recent years. The group is considered a terrorist organisation by the US and the European Union, as well as by Colombia.
ELN units operate largely independently and some have ignored cease-fire orders from central commanders in the past.
The leftist organisation opposes the activities of multinational companies, claiming they seize natural resources from Colombia without benefiting its people.
Former president Juan Manuel Santos began peace talks with the ELN during his tenure, but it is unclear whether current President Ivan Duque plans to resume negotiations.
The ELN called on the government to meet its delegation from collapsed peace talks in Cuba to arrange a bilateral and temporary cease-fire.
Duque cancelled possible negotiations with the group following a January 2019 car bomb attack at a police academy in Bogota that killed 22 cadets.
As a precondition to holding peace talks Duque has demanded the group, which has around 2,000 combatants, declare a unilateral cease-fire, including a suspension of kidnappings and attacks against the oil and gas industry, and that its fighters group together under international observation.
The ELN has rejected the demands.
In the statement, the rebel group also asked the government to reduce prison populations in the midst of the health emergency by freeing “political prisoners” and that it grant a subsidy to the unemployed and suspend loan repayments.
The government was not immediately able to comment on the unilateral cease-fire or the ELN’s demands.

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