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News > Latin America

Colombia's Santos Opens Door to Peace Talks with ELN Rebel Army

  • A citizen participates in a major demonstration in favor of the peace agreement, in Barranquilla, Colombia, Sept. 27, 2016.

    A citizen participates in a major demonstration in favor of the peace agreement, in Barranquilla, Colombia, Sept. 27, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 28 September 2016

The ELN and Colombian government have agreed to a six-point agenda for peace talks, but the process has stalled without formal talks beginning.

Amid euphoria over the signing of the historic peace agreement between the Colombian government and the country’s largest rebel group, the FARC, President Juan Manuel Santos has said that talks aimed at ending hostilities with the smaller guerrilla army, the ELN, could start as early as next week if the force agrees to hand over hostages.

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“If they release the hostages, the very next week we could announce the start of the public phase of the negotiations,” said Santos from the coastal city of Cienaga Tuesday, a day after he signed the peace agreement with FARC leader Timochenko in Cartagena after nearly four years of talks.

Santos said that half of the work has been done with the ELN since an agenda has already been set after more than two years of exploratory talks, paving the way for the other half of the process.

The informal talks between the ELN and Colombian government hit a breakthrough in March with an agreement to move ahead with formal peace negotiations based on a six-point agenda, whose themes overlap considerably with cornerstones of the newly-signed deal with the FARC. Talks will be held in the Ecuadorean capital of Quito with the support of Chile, Brazil, Cuba, Norway, Venezuela and Ecuador as guarantors.

The ELN peace delegation wrote on its Twitter account that the movement is open to initiating talks. “We are ready for the public phase in order to continue the March 30 agreement and seek a way out of the difficulties,” the ELN wrote, referring to the pact that concluded the exploratory peace talks by hammering down an agenda as the roadmap for the rest of the process.

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But although the government and rebel leaders already laid the foundation, talks have failed to move forward due to sticking points between the two sides, including the hostage issue.

When talks finally get underway, the six-point agenda will cover themes such as the participation of society in building peace, democracy under conditions of peace, transformations to achieve peace, the status of victims, an end to the armed conflict and implementation of the deal as announced in March.

The ELN, or National Liberation Army, founded in 1964 with the inspiration of the Cuban revolution, is smaller and less well-known than the FARC. The rebel army has announced that it will halt all military actions between Sept. 30 and Oct. 5 to “facilitate participation” in the plebiscite on Oct. 2 that will ask voters whether or not they accept the peace deal with the FARC.

The country’s smaller rebel army currently has some 3,000 members, compared to over 7,000 in the FARC, which was founded at the same time as the ELN.

Colombia’s over five-decade armed conflict has claimed some 220,000 lives and displaced more than 6 million people.

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