By Jorge Meléndez, EL TIEMPO, January 12, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Even though on December 31, President Gustavo Petro announced the decree that established the bilateral ceasefire with the ELN, the Second Marquetalia, the Central Command Staff (EMC) , the “Clan del Golfo”, and the Self-Defense Forces of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the war continues in Arauca. There has not been any truce.
In that part of the country, the clash between the Dissidents, those close to the EMC, and the ELN has lasted a full year. The dispute, which is for control of the territory and of the corridors for taking drugs to Venezuela, has now left 350 civilians dead.
And even if the ELN doesn’t accept the bilateral ceasefire with the government, there can be a table for dialog, which is why Arauca had expected that the conflict between the two groups would die down.
But on Tuesday an ELN ambush against the Dissidents was reported in a rural area of Puerto Rondón, that had left some 10 Dissidents killed. And now it’s feared that there will be retaliation.
It’s necessary to make clear that the bilateral ceasefire implies that there won’t be any combat with the government. And in that vein, if the ELN hasn’t even signed it, everything indicates that peace could be elusive in Arauca.
According to the Ombudsman’s Office, 12 of those killed last year were social leaders. The Office also said that Saravena was the Municipality with the most violent deaths in the Department during 2022, with 119 homicides.
Carlos Camargo, the Ombudsman, said that the situation is “very critical” in the Department, and he called on the ELN and the Dissidents to put an end to the combat in Arauca.
“Sadly, in Puerto Rondón there was a report that several corpses of men who had died in combat had been found. This increases the uncertainty of the population and has resulted in the confinement of the families that live in the towns (veredas) of El Paisaje, Normandía, and Lejanías, and we can’t rule out the occurrence of forced displacement,” he said.
“This is a painful reverse for the civilian population in Arauca. We feel solidarity with them. Once again we repeat our invitation to stop the violence,” said Peace Commissioner Danilo Rueda.
In Arauca the expectations center on knowing whether the government will be able to stop the war between the ELN and the Dissidents right away. They have hopes for the “total peace”, but they are skeptical, and the first indications don’t seem promising.
Criticism of the “difficulty” with the paramilitaries
“Antonio García”, the boss of the ELN, referred to an interview we learned of yesterday about the failed bilateral ceasefire announced by President Gustavo Petro last December 31.
In that interview, disclosed by the internet site alcarajo.ogr, the guerrilla boss insisted that it’s “elemental” that an agreement be made between two parties, and ordering that ceasefire unilaterally was “an imposition”, and so he thinks “there won’t be any need for a table for dialog”.
“There can never be a bilateral agreement if one party builds it alone, that’s common sense. There was no agreement with the ELN and the government, and you sure can’t push the ELN into the difficulty of a ceasefire between gangs and paramilitaries,” said García. He also said that Petro’s statement had created a crisis.