With concerns mounting over the aftermath of Colombia's peace deal with the FARC rebels, Ecuador's government has announced it will no longer host negotiations between Colombia and the ELN guerrillas, the latest in a long line of setbacks for the attempted peace process.
Government officials in Ecuador announced that they will no longer facilitate peace negotiations between the government of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN), Colombia’s largest remaining guerrilla group, according to an April 18 government press release.
Official statements tied the decision to insecurity along Ecuador's border with Colombia, the most prominent recent example of which was the kidnapping and killing of three Ecuadorean press workers by dissident elements of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - FARC).
"Due to the difficult situation on the northern border ... it is impossible to continue" hosting the peace talks, the press release stated.
SEE ALSO: Ecuador News and Profiles
Colombian Chancellor María Ángela Holguín responded to the move by saying that President Santos "understands the reasons why [Ecuadorean President Lenin] Moreno has decided to deviate from his status as guarantor and host of these negotiations.”
Chancellor Holguín added that the Colombian government will "immediately initiate the pertinent procedures to transfer those conversations to one of the countries that were previously established as alternative headquarters," including Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Venezuela or Norway.
According to El Colombiano, Chile and Cuba are most likely choices, but it remains to be seen where the ELN peace talks will be taking place moving forward.
InSight Crime Analysis
The violence along the Colombia-Ecuador border involving ex-FARC elements appears to be having knock-on effects on the ELN's already shaky peace process.
In the wake of the 2016 peace deal with the FARC, many fighters abandoned the demobilization process and continued to engage in criminal activities. In recent months, these ex-FARC mafia groups have been blamed for a series of bold attacks along the Ecuador-Colombia border, including the murder of the press workers and bombings of police stations.
Other criminal groups, including the ELN, have also been blamed for violence in the border region. For example, an April 18 attack attributed to the ELN near Colombia's border with Ecuador left some 270,000 people without power.
SEE ALSO: ELN News and Profile
In this context, it appears to have become politically unsustainable for Moreno to continue to host peace talks with a rebel group committing aggressions affecting Ecuador's security. The decision, while understandable, could nevertheless spell trouble for the precarious peace process with the ELN.
Peace talks between the Colombian government and the ELN have been on rocky footing since they began in early 2017. After a three-month ceasefire between the ELN and the government ended in January 2018, the guerrillas went on a violent offensive across Colombia, prompting Santos to suspend the peace talks.
Now, without a guarantor of the negotiations, there is no way for them to move forward. And the longer the talks stall, the more likely it is that elements of the fractious ranks of the ELN will abandon the process entirely.