Violence erupted across Colombia following the end of a temporary ceasefire with the country's largest active guerrilla group, casting doubt over the future of ongoing peace negotiations amid concerns that the rebels used the break in fighting to strengthen themselves.
In the days after the January 9 end of a three-month ceasefire between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN), multiple attacks, including the killing of a soldier and the bombing of a pipeline, have been attributed to the guerrillas.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of ELN Peace
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos condemned the violence and asked the government's head negotiator in the ELN peace talks, Gustavo Bell, to return to Bogotá from Quito, Ecuador, reportedly to debate whether or not to continue the negotiations. Santos also ordered the Colombian military to respond to the incidents “with force,” according to El Tiempo.
While the Colombian government and the ELN are at odds over who is to blame for not reaching an agreement to extend the ceasefire, the United Nations Security Council said in a press release that they "regretted" the attacks by the ELN and hoped that the two sides would "resume work to agree a renewal and strengthening of the ceasefire in order to prevent a return to conflict."
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The recent wave of violence raises questions about the future of the peace process between the government and the ELN. The dialogues have been rocky from the get-go, and InSight Crime's research suggests that the ELN have been in expansion mode despite their calls for an end to the conflict.
From the beginning, the Colombian government was skeptical of whether or not ELN leaders could ensure compliance among their ranks if a peace deal were in fact achieved. Dissidency from a 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Army Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) continues to be a major concern, and the ELN's more fractured command structure would likely add to that problem.
The experience of the FARC peace deal also gives the ELN reason to be skeptical about whether or not the government can come through on its end of a potential peace deal. The problem of FARC dissidence has been exacerbated by what the demobilized guerrillas describe as the government's non-compliance with certain aspects of the accord.
SEE ALSO: ELN News and Profile
The possibility that the recent wave of violence might continue or expand casts a shadow over the future of the ELN peace process.
The government has also deployed 2,000 troops to Nariño’s important port city of Tumaco to quell the fighting following the ceasefire. But as InSight Crime previously reported, this “may further fan the flames by introducing another armed actor into an already volatile environment.”
Spiraling violence, particularly between the ELN and government forces, could lead either party to break off the talks.
* This article was written with assistance from Javier Villalba