ELN guerrillas plan convention

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Mon Dec 13 14:38:21 MST 1999

Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.

Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

*** 09-Dec-99 ***

Title: POLITICS-COLOMBIA: ELN Guerrillas Push for National Convention

By Luis Cordova

CARACAS, Dec 9 (IPS) - Colombia's insurgent National Liberation Army (ELN)
is growing by 30 percent each year and operates on 45 fronts with 8,000
soldiers - most under age 25 - as the second largest guerrilla organisation
caught up in the country's decades- long armed conflict.

''We are still a 'Guevarist' guerrilla force that is not very orthodox,''
said commander Pablo Beltran, who has maintained a base in Venezuela over
the last several weeks with the not-so- secret mission of creating a
political space for a national ELN convention that would include the
participation of civil society.

After three meetings with the Colombian government in Havana, and four
conferences with civil society representatives in Caracas, Beltr n expects
the issue to be settled before year end.

The commander has told government negotiators that the ELN would require a
4,000 to 5,000 square km demilitarised zone in Colombian territory to make
the guerrilla group's convention a reality.

The government has already demilitarised a Switzerland-sized area for the
rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the nation's central
region as a step in the peace process with the 15,000-member guerrilla group.

Together, the ELN and FARC are believed to control 40 percent of Colombia's
national territory.

''The ELN is calling on all members of society to present their opinions on
ways to end the Colombian conflict,'' stated Beltran during a press
conference with foreign correpondents in Venezuela.

Colombia's government must decide whether or not it will grant this
''clearance zone.'' If it says ''no,'' the ELN will try to hold the
convention in another country, most likely Venezuela. But Beltran
emphasised that doing so would make it difficult to run the convention in
parallel with ongoing peace talks.

The guerrilla group requested that the demilitarised zone be located near
the Colombian city of Barranca Bermeja, north of Bogota, but would also
accept other alternatives, such as the northeastern department of Santader,
or an area outside of Medellin, in the northwest.

The convention would last nine months and the ELN expects at least 500
people to take part in its opening sessions.

Five issues are to be taken up for consideration, discussion and,
eventually, consensus: human and humanitarian rights, economic and
development models (including drug-trade issues), the State and political
participation, natural resources and sovereignty, and armed forces and
national security.

If the convention is held in Colombia, and therefore occurs in parallel
with the ELN's peace negotations with the government, all conclusions
arising from the discussions would be sent to the negotiators for their use.

Beltran said the ELN agrees with the idea of a period of peace, but the
guerrilla group also believes ''there will be no peace without social

The ELN is concerned about the privatisation of government entities sold at
pitifully low prices, and by corruption, stated Beltr n. He also asserted
that his group is ''categorically unrelated to drug-traffickers,'' adding
that the drug-trade is a ''crime against humanity.''

As the new millennium approaches, the guerrilla group ''rejects more people
that it accepts,'' in a scenario where many young people ''want to be

''The ELN pays no wages,'' said the rebel commander. ''It has no money
because war is expensive,'' so the group is a volunteer force.

Beltran assured that individuals join the ELN on their own accord and can
leave whenever they want. Within the guerrilla organisation ''we have a
democracy'' and every five years 100 delegates from the various fronts
elect the central command.

The command is made up of five people, one of which is Beltran, who studied
petroleum engineering in the 1970s when he joined the guerrilla force.

''I was a rock-thrower,'' remembers Beltran. Later, in the 1980s, he went
with the guerrillas to the mountains, still his home when he is in Colombia.

''The mountains are security, and our mandate forces us to be in secure
areas,'' explained the guerrilla commander, adding, ''luckily we have the


Origin: Montevideo/POLITICS-COLOMBIA/ ----

 [c] 1999, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)

All rights reserved

Louis Proyect

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