Country Risk

ELN peace negotiations face high risk of failure as new Colombian government likely to introduce unacceptable demands

14 August 2018

The chief negotiator of Colombia’s last rebel group, the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), Pablo Beltrán (left), Cuban guarantor Ivan Mora (centre), and the head of the Colombian government delegation for the peace talks with the ELN guerrillas Gustavo Bell (right), are pictured during the fifth round of peace talks in Havana on 10 May 2018. Source: Adalberto Roque/Getty Images

Key Points

  • President Iván Duque has been highly critical of peace negotiations between the former Santos administration and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN).
  • The Duque administration has given itself 30 days to evaluate the state of peace talks with the ELN.
  • The new administration is likely to make strict demands to continue negotiations, including a unilateral ceasefire by the group and an end to criminal activities including kidnapping and drug trafficking.
  • The ELN is unlikely to comply with these demands, increasing the likelihood of the talks collapsing.
  • If negotiations cease, the ELN are likely to increase the frequency of attacks against state security forces, oil pipelines, and electricity infrastructure.


Government preconditions for a continuation of peace talks are unlikely to be met and will probably prompt a collapse in talks before the end of 2018.

On 13 August, the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN) detonated an improvised explosive device (IED) that targeted the state-run oil company Ecopetro’s Caño Limón-Coveñas pipeline in a rural area of Arauca department. It was the first such incident since legislative elections were held in May 2018. The pipeline has suffered approximately 30 IED attacks since the beginning of the year with a further 62 incidents in 2017. All are likely to have been perpetrated by the ELN.

Ineffective negotiations

The ELN is now the largest left-wing insurgency in Colombia following the demobilisation of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) in 2017. It has approximately 1,400 members with strongholds in Arauca, Chocó, Nariño, and Norte de Santander and a presence in Antioquia, Bolívar, Córdoba, and Sucre. Formal peace negotiations between the government and the ELN began in February 2017 under the previous Juan Manuel Santos administration. The negotiations have not advanced significantly due to several factors including the ELN’s refusal to abandon kidnapping.

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