Cuba urges Colombia, ELN rebels to follow peace talks protocol

HAVANA, Jan 25 - Cuba called on the Colombian government and ELN rebels on Friday to follow the protocol of the peace talks it had been hosting and implement measures needed, including security guarantees, to allow 10 ELN leaders in Havana to return to Colombia.

Cuba has found itself in a diplomatic bind since Colombia's President Ivan Duque asked it last week to extradite those leaders following an ELN car bomb blast at a police academy in Bogota that killed 21 people.

The Cuban government condemned the attack but said it would follow the protocols agreed at the start of negotiations in 2017. These provide security guarantees for guerrilla commanders to return to Colombia or Venezuela within 15 days of an end to talks and bar military offensives for 72 hours. "Cuba's foreign ministry calls on the Colombian government and the ELN to adopt the relevant measures that would allow the proceedings for the return of the ELN delegation in accordance with the protocol," it said in a statement.

Duque has said the protocols do not apply since his government never participated in talks started by Former President Juan Manuel Santos. He had refused to restart the negotiations until the ELN freed all hostages and stopped criminal activities.

Though the notoriously decentralized ELN claimed responsibility for the car bombing last week, calling the attack a legitimate attack of war, its leaders in Cuba have said they were not involved.

Some analysts say the Colombian government should be obliged to accept the protocols despite the change of administration.

The Cuban foreign ministry said it had sent a verbal note to its Colombian counterpart recalling the commitments it and the ELN had undertaken, sending a copy of the note to the other countries overseeing the peace talks.

Cuba, which had previously hosted talks between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that led to a peace agreement in 2016, recalled that it had offered to be the seat of peace talks last year as a "goodwill gesture."

The original host Ecuador pulled its support for the talks, saying it would not host them as long as the guerrillas continued to wage attacks.