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Colombia rejects pandemic cease-fire offer from ELN guerrilla group

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BOGOTA, Colombia -- Colombia's government has rejected a cease-fire offer from the country's main guerrilla group, which argued that the truce would facilitate efforts to help victims of the coronavirus pandemic.

The proposal from the National Liberation Army (ELN) does not reflect "a real will to peace," peace commissioner Miguel Ceballos said in comments shown on the news program Noticias Caracol on Wednesday.

In a statement on Tuesday, the leftist guerrilla group referred to a call for a global cease-fire to combat the pandemic that the U.N. Security Council had issued on July 1.

It proposed a 90-day truce, saying the cease-fire would favor humanitarian efforts and the relaunch of peace talks.

Peace talks started under the previous president, Juan Manuel Santos, but his successor, Ivan Duque, was reluctant to continue them. He suspended them completely after the ELN accepted responsibility for a bombing that killed 22 students at a Bogota police academy in January 2019.

Duque rejected the cease-fire offer on Tuesday, demanding that the group first release hostages it is holding and "put an end to its criminal acts."

The ELN had declared a unilateral cease-fire for April to support the fight against the pandemic.

The group, with more than 2,000 fighters, is Colombia's main remaining guerrilla movement after the government signed a peace deal with the much bigger FARC in 2016.

 

Founded in 1964, the ELN is accused of financing itself with drug trafficking, kidnappings and illegal mining.

More than 2,000 FARC dissidents also remain active in the country.

Duque on Tuesday extended a nationwide lockdown until Aug. 1 amid a constant increase in coronavirus infections.

Armed conflict in Colombia has left more than 260,000 people dead since 1958, according to the National Center for Historical Memory.

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