Colombia ELN leftist guerrilla group declares Christmas ceasefire
Colombian leftist guerrilla group the National Liberation Army (ELN) on Monday declared a nine-day unilateral ceasefire over the Christmas period, as part of a bid to support peace talks with the Andean country's government, which urged other illegal armed groups to follow suit.
Colombia's government and the ELN last week completed the first cycle of peace talks between the two parties in Venezuela's capital Caracas.
The negotiations look to end the rebel group's part in Colombia's internal conflict, which has run for almost six decades and left at least 450,000 dead between 1985 and 2018.
"The ELN remains committed to continue contributing to create a better environment of peace on these Christmas and New Year dates, therefore we decree a unilateral ceasefire from 6 a.m. (1100 GMT) on Dec. 24, 2022 until 6 a.m. on Jan. 2 of 2023," a woman member of the ELN said in a televised statement while flanked by other guerrillas, who brandished rifles.
The unilateral ceasefire will only apply to Colombia's military and police, the ELN said in a recorded statement, adding it reserves the right to defend itself if attacked.
The ELN sometimes clashes with rival groups such as the Clan del Golfo and dissident members of the now-demobilized FARC guerrillas, who reject a 2016 peace deal with the Colombian state.
The declaration was praised by officials and politicians.
"I salute the ELN's announcement of a unilateral ceasefire during the Christmas period that I trust will contribute to alleviate suffering and improve communities' humanitarian situation," Carlos Ruiz Massieu, the special representative of the U.N. Secretary General for Colombia, said in a message on Twitter.
Following the announcement, Colombia's government called on other armed groups also to call a ceasefire.
"We take this opportunity to send a message to all the violent groups that are operating in the country, so that hopefully they will pick up on this outcry from the people," Interior Minister Alfonso Prada told reporters.