Colombia president meets surrendered ELN rebels

Colombia president meets surrendered ELN rebels

Colombia president meets surrendered ELN rebels

Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos (L) shakes hands with a member of guerrilla group ELN, who has defected and handed over his weapons, at a military base in Cali July 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has met 30 rebels of the country’s second largest armed group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), after they laid down their arms, calling the development “a great move forward.”

The ELN is not part of the peace talks with Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), but its leaders have expressed interest.

Santos personally greeted the rebels who surrendered their arms in the city of Cali, according to a BBC report. The Colombian president shook hands with rebels, three of whom are pregnant women.

“This is what the [peace] process is about. So every member of the ELN and the FARC follows their path fighting for their ideals, but without violence and without arms,” he said. “This is the biggest single ELN contingent to surrender.”

On July 15, FARC’s chief peace negotiator said the armed conflict that has lasted nearly five decades was nearing its end. Ivan Marquez, who is taking part in talks with the Colombian government in Cuba, called on left-wing parties and unions to join the effort to achieve peace.

The government, who insists that ELN rebels have to surrender all hostages, wants to sign a peace accord by November.