Colombia announces peace talks with second rebel group
Colombia’s government and the country’s second biggest rebel group announce the start of peace talks after the shock rejection of a deal with the FARC guerrilla group in a referendum.
The government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) issued a joint statement in the Venezuelan capital on Monday, pledging to do everything in their power to “create an environment favorable to peace.”
“The delegations of the national government and the ELN have agreed to firstly install on October 27 in Quito, Ecuador, the public negotiating table,” said chief government negotiator Mauricio Rodriguez.
Colombia and the ELN agreed in March to launch peace talks, in parallel with the government’s negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
President Juan Manuel Santos is working to end half a century of conflict in Colombia that has killed more than 260,000 people, left 45,000 missing and uprooted nearly seven million.
The FARC and ELN have been at war with the state since 1964. The ELN is estimated to be about one fourth the size of the FARC, with some 1,500 fighters.
After nearly four years of talks with the FARC, the government and rebels signed a peace deal on September 26. However, the Colombians unexpectedly voted against it, shocking many in the country and around the world.
The ELN is notorious in Colombia for attacking government soldiers, kidnapping people and targeting the country’s infrastructure.
Earlier on Monday, the leftist group handed over a civilian hostage, the third person freed by the ELN in the past two weeks.
The rebel group described the release as an “important announcement” on potential peace negotiations with the government.
The government has demanded the release of all the hostages in its captivity before the start of any talks. According to the joint statement, the ELN pledged to “initiate the process to free hostages before October 27.”