As Colombia continues to navigate a path to peace following five decades of armed conflict, the government will formally start peace talks with the country’s second-largest guerrilla army, the National Liberation Army on Oct. 27 in Quito, Ecuador, both peace delegations announced at a press conference from Caracas.
A few days later, on Nov. 3, negotiations will first address the issue of "participation of society in peace-building," said Mauricio Rodriguez, chief negotiator for the government from the foreign ministry building in Caracas, Venezuela.
The second point tackles "humanitarian actions and gestures," added ELN commander and chief peace negotiator, Pablo Beltran. Before the talks formally start, both parts will discuss the liberation of prisoners, releasing at least two of them before Oct. 27 in order to "create an atmosphere favorable for peace," stated Beltran.
On Monday, the ELN released another prisoner, reported the Red Cross, the third one in the past two weeks.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said ELN fighters had handed over the latest hostage, whose name was not released, in a remote area in the department of Arauca, on the Venezuelan border.
The ELN is still believed to be holding at least one hostage, according to Colombian authorities.
The announcement comes as the future of the government's peace deal with Colombia’s largest armed rebel force, the FARC-EP, remains uncertain after voters rejected the deal by a razor-thin margin on Oct. 2.
President Juan Manuel Santos welcomed the announcement from the presidential palace in Bogota and thanked the countries supporting the peace talks, especially Ecuador, that will be hosting the peace talks.
"Now with the ELN, Colombia will have a complete peace," he said.
The opening of formal talks with the ELN is expected to revitalize the government's attempts at reaching accords with rebel groups, after the stunning defeat at the polls of the peace accord reached with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Friday, an award that left out his peace partners in the FARC-EP.
The anticipated launch of a formal peace dialogue between the government and the ELN comes after more than two years of exploratory talks. The informal talks hit a breakthrough in March with a consensus to move ahead adhering to a six-point agenda. But the process has since stalled after some contentious debate, and no formal peace agreement.
Ahead of Monday’s event, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry heralded the announcement as “important,” while Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Guillaume Long hinted at “very positive” news on the peace process between the government and the ELN.
According to the preliminary agreement on the roadmap for the dialogue, government and ELN negotiators will meet in the Ecuadorean capital of Quito with support from Chile, Brazil, Cuba, Norway, Venezuela and Ecuador as guarantors of the peace process.
In the case of the FARC-EP, talks were held in Havana, Cuba, for nearly four years before the final agreement was unveiled in late August.
The six cornerstones of the process with the ELN overlap considerably with the final agreement reached with the FARC-EP, highlighting the underlying causes of the long civil war, largely sparked by land conflicts and inequality, especially in the countryside.
The ELN was inspired by the Cuban revolution and founded the same year as the FARC-EP, 1964. The group is smaller and less well-known, but still the country’s second-largest rebel army with between 2,000 and 3,000 active members.
Colombia’s 52-year civil war has claimed more than 220,000 lives and uprooted nearly seven million, making it home to the second largest population of internally displaced people after Syria.