Colombian government, ELN rebels fail to agree ceasefire

Bogota (AFP) –


Outgoing Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos admitted defeat on Wednesday after failing to secure a ceasefire with ELN Marxist guerrillas before handing over the reins to hardline right-wing successor Ivan Duque next week.

"We hope that the next government decides to continue" negotiating with the ELN, the last recognized armed group fighting government forces in Colombia, to "start a real and verifiable ceasefire," added Santos.

He said there was "very little missing" from an agreement, adding: "I would say 10 percent."

Santos said the two parties had agreed on a "very well defined" plan to implement a bilateral and temporary truce during talks in Havana on Tuesday evening, but that it lacked United Nations verification.

"To verify it you need protocols, very precise procedures, so that there are no misunderstandings," said Santos.

He said the UN itself had insisted on the protocols as it would be monitoring the truce, alongside the Catholic Church.

Santos said it would be "counterproductive to sign something that hasn't been endorsed by the new government."

Duque has already promised a tougher negotiating stance towards the ELN.

Santos ordered his negotiators back to Bogota on Wednesday to brief the new regime on the state of the discussions, which began in 2017.

But he said negotiations were "very advanced" when his team left Cuba.

Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize after signing a historic peace accord with FARC rebels in December 2016, ending a half-century of their armed struggle against the state that left hundreds of thousands dead.

And the 66-year-old hoped he could make significant progress in convincing the ELN to lay down their weapons too before stepping down on August 7.

Earlier this week he told AFP: "We're making progress, we'll see if we can sign a ceasefire before August 7, even if it's temporary and a framework agreement."

Duque, though, has been singing from a very different hymn sheet.

Upon his election in June he vowed to make "corrections" to the FARC peace deal, which he criticized for being too lenient on the former rebels.

He's already announced a controversial appointment as his new defense minister, adding to the uncertainty.

Guillermo Botero, a 70-year-old lawyer and entrepreneur with no experience in security matters, has been a vocal critic of the peace accord.