Colombia's last rebel group is seeking US guarantees that Washington will not seek the extradition of its negotiators in future peace talks, after Ecuador's surprise decision not to host the negotiations.
In an interview with AFP in Quito, the ELN's chief negotiator Pablo Beltran raised issues of concern for the group after Ecuador renounced its status as guarantor and host of the talks between the rebels and Bogota, following a flare-up of violence along its border with Colombia.
The demand comes as Washington has sought the extradition of a former peace negotiator from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on drug trafficking charges.
That prompted an angry response from the now-demobilized FARC, Colombia's onetime main rebel group that signed a landmark peace deal with Bogota in 2016 and then transformed itself into a political party.
Since February 2017, the Colombian government has been holding talks in the Ecuadoran capital with the ELN, a smaller rebel group that is seeking to secure a similar deal.
The following are excerpts from AFP's interview with Beltran:
- How will Ecuador's decision affect the talks? -
"The work that has been done here has been very productive and very important. We have written a letter.. in which we ask the government of Ecuador to reconsider its withdrawal as guarantor. This implies an interruption (in the talks). We have agreed to a very swift move ... so that we don't lose any time.
"We hope we can find a new country very soon."
- Any decision on the new host city? -
"Not yet but the other five guarantor countries (Cuba, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela and Norway) have all offered to play host. We are in consultations with the government to decide which of these countries is going to take up the fifth cycle."
- What guarantees are you seeking? -
"There is a factor which is very important, and that is proximity to Colombia. The closer it is, the more people from Colombia can interact with the talks. (...)
"Another is that there has been a clear decision by the United States to go against the peace process in Colombia. So whatever country is going to host the talks needs to have legal guarantees in place for the ELN delegation because without that, we won't be able to negotiate with peace of mind."
- Will the move affect the pre-vote ceasefire? -
"We will try to ensure that it doesn't affect it, so we can announce a new bilateral ceasefire before the elections (on May 27). (...) we need to establish the rules of the game to ensure that neither side will take military advantage during the ceasefire."
- Will the ELN suspend attacks on oil facilities? -
"Yes, this will happen at a later stage ... in line with decisions that the government must take to alter its policy on mining, energy and the environment."
- Will the truce last until Colombia has a new president? -
"That will be taken into consideration but no decision has been taken yet. The minimum will be the same (101 days) as the first ceasefire. If we manage to agree another one before May 18, that will cover the arrival of the new government (on August 7)."