Colombia postpones ELN talks over hostage dispute
BOGOTAColombian President Juan Manuel Santos postponed peace talks with the ELN rebels on Oct. 27 just hours before they were due to open, insisting they first release an ex-lawmaker being held hostage.
Santos said he remained committed to making peace but would not budge from his demand for the ELN to first free former congressman Odin Sanchez “safe and sound.”
The government’s top peace negotiator, Juan Camilo Restrepo, later said an operation was under way for the leftist guerrillas to hand Sanchez over to the Red Cross. But it was not immediately clear how long it would take.
Restrepo said he believed the handover would be complete by Nov. 3, when the first round of substantive negotiations had been scheduled to begin.
“I reiterate all the government’s readiness and willingness to advance with this process,” Santos said in a speech.
The talks had been due to formally open at 5:00 p.m. (10:00 p.m. GMT) in Ecuador.
Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo said the government was prepared to reschedule to Oct. 28, Oct. 29 “or whenever we are certain that Odin Sanchez has been freed.”
The rebels said on Twitter they “do not share” the decision to postpone.
Hours after the government suspended talks ELN rebels killed two truck drivers in the country’s northeast in a “terrorist act,” the military said.