GOC-ELN EXPLORATORY TALKS MAKE STEADY PROGRESS, RESUME IN APRIL; ELN CALLS ON COLOMBIANS TO VOTE IN MARCH 12 ELECTIONS

ID 06BOGOTA1965
SUBJECT GOC-ELN EXPLORATORY TALKS MAKE STEADY PROGRESS,
DATE 2006-03-03 22:10:00
CLASSIFICATION CONFIDENTIAL
ORIGIN Embassy Bogota
TEXT C O N F I D E N T I A L BOGOTA 001965

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/03/2016
TAGS: PGOV PTER PREL PINR CO
SUBJECT: GOC-ELN EXPLORATORY TALKS MAKE STEADY PROGRESS,
RESUME IN APRIL; ELN CALLS ON COLOMBIANS TO VOTE IN MARCH
12 ELECTIONS

REF: BOGOTA 1145 AND PREVIOUS

Classified By: Ambassador William B. Wood
Reason: 1.4 (b,d)

——-
SUMMARY
——-

¶1. (C) The latest round of exploratory talks between the GOC
and ELN ended February 28 in Havana. The GOC-ELN joint
statement issued February 27 characterized the talks as
“satisfactory” and said they would resume in early April,
again in Havana. Other participants and observers told us
the talks made steady progress. Civil society guarantor
Moritz Akerman was optimistic, saying the talks moved forward
on defining modalities for the next session, including a
“working group” to handle the tough issues. He said the
guarantor group would expand shortly. A close observer from
the Catholic Church, who also attended the talks, was more
skeptical, saying neither party seemed to have a clear
strategy beyond seeking short term political advantage. The
GOC conceded “political” status to ELN negotiators, which
allows them to travel within Colombia and abroad and
insulates them from arrest while the talks continue. The ELN
negotiators plan to use this status to travel to Europe in
the near future. The GOC’s reluctance to concede the
political status almost led to the talks breaking down.
Akerman told us that ELN military commander Antonio Garcia
asked him to “tell the Americans to pay close attention” to
the talks. The guarantor also said Garcia regarded a
guarantor proposal to the ELN on kidnappings (reftel) as
positive but premature. On March 2, the ELN called on
Colombians to vote in the March 12 congressional elections
and said it would suspend military action for a few hours
before and after voting time. End summary.

——————————————— ——-
STATEMENT SAYS TALKS CONCLUDE IN SATISFACTORY MANNER
——————————————— ——-

¶2. (C) A GOC-ELN statement dated February 27 said the most
recent round of exploratory talks in Havana concluded in a
“satisfactory” manner. The statement said the parties met
their objectives, which were to define further their
proposals on the peace process in general and the agenda for
subsequent sessions. The statement thanked the Governments
of Cuba and Venezuela for their assistance, and the
Governments of accompanying countries” Spain, Norway, and
SWITZERLAND for their participation. The exploratory
phase of talks will resume in early April, again in Havana.
The statement did not mention the fact that the GOC agreed to
concede “political status” to two ELN negotiators (apparently
militarycommander Antonio Garcia and alias “Ramiro Vargas.”)
This status would allow the ELN negotiators to travel
without fear of arrest, according to press reports. Leading
daily El Tiempo reported March 1 that the ELN wanted to use
the status to visit Europe.

————————————
STEADT PROGRESS, BUT NO BREAKTHROUGH
————————————

¶3. (C) The talks made steady progress but did not result in
a breakthrough, according to participants and observers.
Civil society guarantor Moritz Akerman told D/Polcouns that
the agreement was “very good,” because it talks about a
“peace process” for the first time. Akerman said the parties
agreed to establish a working group-type mechanism (“mesa
alternativa”) for the next round of talks, which would enable
especially difficult issues to be thrashed out prior to
reaching the main negotiators. According to Akerman, the
guarantors would play a role in the “mesa alternativa.” He
also said the GOC and ELN agreed to a formal role in the
talks for the “accompanying countries” (who are to be called
“international observers”).

¶4. (C) Akerman said the guarantors group still intends to
expand (reftel). Three new guarantors will soon be
announced: former foreign minister Maria Emma Mejia, Father
Horacio Orango, and El Colombiano editor Ana Mercedes Gomez

(who still needs permission from her publisher employer). He
noted that the guarantors are exploring moving the talks to
Panama and are in touch with Panamanian interlocutors.

¶5. (C) Akerman said he was concerned the talks were headed
for trouble late on February 22, when Garcia called him on
the cell phone to say the GOC was refusing to concede the ELN
negotiators “political” status that would enable them to
travel. According to Akerman, Garcia said, “tell the
Americans that they should pay close attention to this
matter.” Akerman understood from this comment that Garcia
was suggesting the U.S. help persuade the GOC to grant
political status to the negotiators. (Akerman relayed this
information to us on February 24, by which time the GOC and
ELN had reached agreement.) Akerman also said Garcia told
him the guarantor proposal to the ELN on kidnappings was
positive but premature (reftel).

¶6. (C) Lead Catholic Church negotiator Father Dario
Echeverri, who was also in Havana for the talks, told
Polcouns he believes neither the ELN nor the GOC have a clear
strategy for the talks beyond seeking short-term political
advantages. He said the ELN wanted to move the talks to
Europe beginning March 28, and argued the GOC is correct to
insist on a “very big concession” from the ELN before it
agrees to such a move. According to Echeverri, the ELN wants
the GOC to release captured Valle del Cauca commander, alias
“El Viejo,” to join ELN spokesman Francisco Galan at the
House of Peace in Antioquia for further civil society
consultations. In Echeverri’s view, the House of Peace
initiative educates the ELN on the negative impression most
Colombians have of the guerrilla organization. Echeverri said
he was very impressed by a new ELN negotiator in Havana,
alias “Moises,” from Norte de Santander.

——————————————— ——–
ELN CALLS ON COLOMBIANS TO VOTE IN MARCH 12 ELECTIONS
——————————————— ——–

¶7. (C) On March 2, the ELN,s Garcia called on the Colombian
population to vote in the March 12 Congressional elections
and promised to suspend any military action that could
interfere with voting for a few hours before and after the
election. He made these statements in Cuba during a
teleconference with journalists in Medellin. Some Colombian
analysts see the ELN,s new attitude toward elections as an
indicator of the group,s willingness to move forward with
the peace process and as a sign of the ELN distancing itself
from the FARC. Others remain skeptical. Garcia denied the
ELN had any favored candidates or parties, but encouraged the
population to vote for candidates &committed to peace and
who are willing to support necessary changes8 in the
country.

——-
COMMENT
——-

¶8. (C) The fact that exploratory “talks about talks” will
continue is a good sign, but Embassy is inclined to accept
Echeverri’s account as more realistic. Foreign Minister
Barco told Polcouns that the GOC remains skeptical of ELN
intentions and does not want to get embroiled in a long,
complicated process with too many moving parts — something
the ELN has been partial to during past attempts at peace.
Both Echeverri and members of Peace Commissioner Restrepo’s
team report that ELN commander Garcia was very tough and
intransigent at the negotiating table. Garcia’s interest in
ensuring the U.S. was informed of what he viewed as GOC
stubbornness is an interesting sidebar but Embassy believes
we should take our cue from the GOC with respect to any
future involvement in the process.
WOOD

=======================CABLE ENDS============================
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XTAGS: XTAGPGOV, XTAGPTER, XTAGPREL, XTAGPINR, XTAGCO 06BOGOTA1965
TAGS PGOV PTER PREL PINR CO
ADDED 2011-02-23 06:06:00
STAMP 2011-02-23 12:00:58
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