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Colombia Gov't, Rebels OK Cease-Fire   06/10 08:16


   HAVANA, Cuba (AP) -- Colombia's government and its largest remaining 
guerrilla group agreed Friday to a six-month cease-fire at talks in Cuba, in 
the latest attempt to resolve a conflict dating back to the 1960s.

   The government and the National Liberation Army, or ELN, announced the 
accord at a ceremony in Havana attended by Colombian President Gustavo Petro, 
top guerrilla commander Antonio Garca and Cuban officials. The cease-fire 
takes effect in phases, goes fully into effect in August and then lasts for six 

   "This effort to look for peace is a beacon of hope that conflicts can be 
resolved politically and diplomatically," top rebel negotiator Pablo Beltrn 
said at the ceremony.

   The talks originally were scheduled to conclude with an official ceremony on 
Thursday, but were postponed as the parties asked for additional time to work 
on final details. Petro traveled to the island for the ceremony, saying it 
could herald an "era of peace" in Colombia.

   The accord reached Friday also calls for the formation of a broadly 
representative national committee by late July to discuss a lasting peace.

   "You have here proposed a bilateral agreement, and I agree with that, but 
Colombian society has to be able debate it, and to participate," Petro said 
during the ceremony.

   Garca, the rebel commander, said his group was "very confident" in the 
accord, though he characterized it as "procedural" and not yet the 
"substantial" kind needed "for Colombia to change."

   Negotiations between the sides had resumed in August, after being terminated 
in 2019 when the rebels set off a car bomb at a police academy in Bogota 
killing 21 people.

   Following that incident, the government of then-President Ivn Duque 
(2018-2022) issued arrest warrants for ELN leaders in Cuba for the peace 
negotiations. But Cuba refused to extradite them, arguing that doing so would 
compromise its status as a neutral nation in the conflict and break with 
diplomatic protocols.

   Talks relaunched in November shortly after Petro was elected as Colombia's 
first leftist president.

   Petro has pushed for what he calls a "total peace" that would demobilize all 
of the country's remaining rebel groups as well as its drug trafficking gangs. 
He has questioned whether senior ELN leaders have full control of a younger 
generation of commanders who he has suggested are focused more on the illegal 
drug trade than on political goals.

   The ELN was founded in the 1960s by union leaders, students and priests 
inspired by the Cuban revolution. It is Colombia's largest remaining rebel 
group and has been notoriously difficult for previous Colombian governments to 
negotiate with.

   In 2016, Colombia's government signed a peace dea l with the larger FARC 
group that ended five decades of conflict in which an estimated 260,000 people 
were killed.

   But violence has continued to affect rural pockets of the country where the 
ELN has been active, along with FARC holdout groups and drug trafficking gangs. 
Colombian authorities have accused the ELN of involvement in the drug 
trafficking, but the group's top leaders have denied that.

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