Mr. Wober, vice-president of exploration for Canadian junior mining company Braeval Mining Corporation, was a bargaining chip in a long-standing battle over mining rights between Colombia’s leftist guerillas and its government. Now, his release could have implications for future peace in a country racked by 50 years of violent armed conflict, by opening the door to allow the ELN, Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla group, to the negotiating table.
The Canadian went from being a pawn in the conflict over resources to a possible lynchpin in negotiating peace with one of Latin America’s oldest rebel groups.
Since November, peace talks have been underway in Havana between Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and government negotiators. The ELN has expressed interest in holding parallel peace talks. But President Juan Manuel Santos repeatedly said the government would not start peace talks with the ELN while it still held Mr. Wober hostage.
Mr. Wober’s release however, “means this impasse will be overcome,” said Carlos Medina Gallego, an author of several books on the ELN and professor of security and defence at the National University of Colombia.
Mr. Wober was abducted Jan. 18 along with three Colombian and two Peruvian geologists in Norosi in a gold-rich region of northern Colombia. The ELN has been historically opposed to foreign exploitation of resources and was against Braeval’s mining project that was still in its exploration phase and not yet producing gold. The ELN released the South Americans a month later, but held on to Mr. Wober. In April, the militia offered Mr. Wober’s freedom in exchange for Braeval handing over the four mining titles that make up the company’s Snow Mine project to local miners.
Braeval announced in July it would abandon Snow Mine and the rebel group declared it would soon free Mr. Wober. But as his captivity dragged on, the Colombian government applied pressure on the rebel group by making peace negotiations conditional on Mr. Wober’s release. On Aug. 1, President Santos said a peace process with the ELN could start as soon as Mr. Wober was released.
The Canadian’s abduction, originally motivated by conflicts over mining, became “an impulse toward a peace process” said Leon Valencia, a former member of the ELN who is now a leading analyst on the armed conflict and director of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation. “They [the ELN] were pressuring for demands over mining,” said Mr. Valencia, “and now the act of liberating [Mr. Wober] gives them an entry into negotiations.”
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