As peace talks between the Colombian government and the leftist guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN) continue, a study released on Thursday showed that armed groups are using conflict to isolate communities into their homes in a bid to strengthen their hold of the territory.

The peace talks between the ELN and the Colombian government began in earnest at Caracas in Venezuela, and the location will be rotating between Venezuela, Cuba and Norway. ELN negotiator Pablo Beltrán and head government negotiator Otty Patiño have expressed hope in the talks concluding over 60 years of conflict, according to The Guardian.

The ELN, which reportedly has 4,000 fighters within them and does activities such as operating illegal gold mines and drug trafficking schemes, has become the biggest guerrilla group in the country after the Colombian government’s successful 2016 peace agreement that disbanded the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

“We cannot see each other as enemies, the labor we have is of reconciliation,” Beltrán said. “We hope not to fail these expectations for change.”

The renewed peace talks with ELN comes as a study by the Norwegian Refugee Council shows that millions of Colombians are forced to stay isolated within their homes and communities by militant armed groups pushing control of their territory through violence, Al-Jazeera reported.

The Norwegian group said that 2.6 million people has had their movements restricted by many of the armed groups, which include FARC dissidents that have refused to put down their arms. The groups also find themselves fighting each other over control of drug trafficking routes and other illegal activities that rake in money for the groups.

“Imagine being forced to stay in your home by men with guns – day after day. The confinements in Colombia mean you can’t work, visit your family or send your children to school,” Juan Gabriel Wells from the Norwegian Refugee Council said.

Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s President, has promised for “total peace” in the country as violence between armed and insurgent groups increased after the 2016 peace agreement. Over 450,000 people are believed to have been killed due to the conflicts between 1985 and 2018.

Colombia Peace Talks ELN Rep. Pic
Representation image. Flavia Carpio/Unsplash.

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