Colombia says agreement made with ELN rebels on displaced people

The president says peace talks have led to an agreement to allow the Embera indigenous community to return to her land.

Colombia has reached an agreement in peace talks with the rebel group ELN to allow the indigenous Embera community to return to her land in the west of the country, President Gustavo Petro said.

The pact is the first significant success of peace negotiations between the government and the left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s largest remaining rebel group.

Talks, aimed at ending the country’s decades-long conflict, resumed in Venezuela last month after being suspended in 2019.

“The first point of agreement we reached with the ELN – in barely a week of these dialogues – is the return of the indigenous Embera people… to their reservations,” Petro said Saturday during a public appearance in Dabeiba, a city in the northwest of Colombia.

Petro did not say when the Embera would return to their land in western Colombia’s Choco and Risaralda departments. They had fled violence between drug gangs, banned right-wing armed groups and the ELN.

Many of the displaced Embera now live in Colombia’s capital and hold highly visible protests in parks, regularly clashing with police.

As of Saturday, ELN delegates at the talks had made no statements directly related to the humanitarian deal on the Embera.

Embera Indigenous people clash with riot police as they fight for the right to the land they say is theirs, in Bogota, Colombia [File: Harry Furia Grafica/Reuters]

‘Total peace’

The push for peace negotiations came from Colombia’s new very first left-wing president, Gustavo Petro, who was a former member of the M-19 rebel movement.

After taking office in August, the president employed the ELN as part of his “total peace” policy and negotiations resumed, even though a ceasefire between the two sides has not yet been reached.

Nevertheless, the ELN had pledged to allow “humanitarian aid processes” as part of a peace talks framework the leaders signed with the government of then-President Juan Manuel Santos in 2016.

That year, Santos signed a historic peace deal with Colombia’s largest and oldest rebel group, the FARC. The FARC and the ELN operated in different parts of the country.

Previous attempts at negotiations with the ELN, which according to peace-promoting civilian group Indepaz has about 2,500 fighters, have stalled, in part because of disagreements within its ranks.

ELN leaders say the group is united, but it is unclear how much power negotiators have over active units. The group operates primarily in the Pacific region and along the 2,200 km (1,370 mi) border with Venezuela.

Talks between the ELN and Santos were called off in 2019 by Santos’ successor, Ivan Duque, after the ELN bombed a police academy in Bogota.

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Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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