Security forces in Colombia are continuing operations against the country's second-largest rebel group ahead of planned peace talks, a possible sign that the government intends to keep military pressure on the guerrillas in order to avoid a drawn out negotiating process.
The Colombian Navy announced on October 17 that two dozen members of the Cimarrón Resistance (Resistencia Cimarrón) front of the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN) in the western department of Chocó had demobilized following security operations in the municipality of Pizarro.
According to a Defense Ministry press release, the group surrendered their arms and other equipment to authorities. Among those who demobilized were two of the front's leaders, known by the aliases "Horacio" and "Isaías." The ministry described the demobilization as "one of the largest ever recorded."
"This is the best way out. I invite other colleagues to avail themselves of the demobilization program," the statement quoted Horacio as saying.
At a ceremony for the demobilization, the general commander of Colombia's armed forces, Gen. Juan Pablo Rodriguez, praised the demobilized fighters.
"I want to welcome these 24 members of the ELN that decided to change their lives," Rodriguez said. "I hope they can be an example for others."
The Cimarrón Resistance front's top leader, known by the aliases "Franklin" and "El Mocho," was killed during a military operation earlier this year.
The action in Chocó was preceded by another October 17 operation in the northeast department of Casanare that saw one member of the guerrilla group's José Adonaí Ardila Pinilla front killed and four others captured, El Espectador reported.
Among those captured were alias "Julian," head of the front's finance committee, and alias "Lucho Chino," head of the front's public order commission.
On October 19, the Defense Ministry announced another round of military operations against the ELN, which saw the seizure of several drug processing sites in northeast Colombia and the capture of another guerrilla leader, alias "Culebro Viejo," in Venezuela.
The Colombian government and the ELN recently announced that they would officially begin peace negotiations in Quito, Ecuador on October 27.
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The recent military actions against the ELN could be part of an effort by the Colombian government to keep pressure on the guerrilla group as the peace talks approach. The structure of the talks, which emphasizes the participation of civil society groups, combined with the ELN's horizontal leadership system are expected to make for slow progress toward a final agreement.
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Moreover, there appear to be some dissident factions of the ELN that are not entirely on board with the peace talks. Keeping military pressure on the group may be an attempt to prevent members from continuing to engage in criminal activities, while at the same time incentivizing them to demobilize and join the peace process.