Colombia to launch peace talks with ELN rebels
AFP PhotoThe Colombian government and the country’s second-largest rebel group, the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), announced Oct. 10 they would launch negotiations on Oct. 27 in Ecuador’s capital, with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos predicting “total peace.”
Both sides have committed to doing everything in their power to “create an environment favorable to peace” once the talks begin, according to a joint statement delivered at the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry in Caracas.
The move comes as welcome news for Santos, fresh from his Nobel Peace Prize win but still reeling from voters’ rejection in a referendum of a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest rebel group.
“We’ve been seeking negotiations with the ELN for almost three years to end the armed conflict with them as well... Now that we’re moving forward with the ELN, we will have total peace,” Santos said in Bogota.
At war for five decades after being founded by radical Catholic priests and inspired by Cuba’s revolution, the ELN has been in on-and-off closed-door talks with the government since January 2014 on how the two sides would conduct peace negotiations and what would be on the table.
The ELN has sought peace before, holding talks in Cuba and Venezuela between 2002 and 2007.
The ELN freed a civilian hostage, the International Committee of the Red Cross said, ahead of what the rebels had billed as an “important announcement” on potential peace talks with the government.
It was the third hostage release in two weeks by the ELN.
Colombia and the ELN agreed in March to launch peace talks, in parallel with the government’s negotiations with the FARC.
But the government has said negotiations with the ELN cannot begin until the group frees all its hostages.
In the text presented in Caracas, the ELN vowed to “initiate the process to free hostages before Oct. 27.”
The ELN is still believed to be holding at least one hostage, former congressman Odin Sanchez. But the text announcing peace talks spoke of “two cases,” without giving further details.
Sanchez handed himself over to the rebels in April in exchange for the release of his brother, Patrocinio Sanchez, a former governor who had fallen ill after nearly three years in captivity.
Santos’s Nobel prize was seen as a boost for the process, as the government negotiates with both the opposition and the FARC to salvage the deal.
Meanwhile, FARC leader Timoleon “Timochenko” Jimenez tweeted that the ELN could “count on our militant support and solidarity. Many successes in this process that has now started.”