The National Liberation Army, or ELN, said Monday that it was ready to resume peace talks with the Colombian government, which have been suspended since Jan. 9, prompting Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to confirm the news and officially announce restarting the negotiations with the leftist rebels.
"Since the bilateral ceasefire ended, there have been too many deaths on both sides, too many wounded, too many victims - this is what we must stop," Santos said in a televised address Monday afternoon. "And that can only be achieved by talking," he said, adding he hoped the two sides could agree to another ceasefire.
Santos did not specify a start date for the renewed talks, but said the government negotiators will travel back to Quito.
Hours earlier the ELN issued a statement on their website saying they were going back to the negotiation table with “the conviction that it is better to carry out the dialogue in the midst of a bilateral ceasefire, and that the agreed agenda must be developed with diligence and speed."
The 5th round of talks was set for Jan. 9, the last day of the 101-days bilateral ceasefire, but it was suspended by President Santos after the ELN attacked a pipeline in Colombia.
“The peace process friends called the two-month interruption of talks a 'prolonged recess,' when it was actually just the abandoning of the talks by the government in order to appeal to the most extreme sectors of the Colombian right,” the ELN said in its press release.
According to the ELN, the hardline rightists support Colombia's military offensive against the insurgent group, even during the agreed ceasefire, celebrate the death of insurgents and “simulate pain when Colombian soldiers die in guerrilla attacks.”
They said the Colombian right-wing sectors are still hanging onto Colombian former President Laureano Gomez, the ultra right-wing and Nazi sympathizer, who used to say that they “wouldn't give away in the ballot boxes what they had won in the war.”
They also quoted former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, one of the leading figures in the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, as he pledged to "fight violence as if there was no negotiation, and negotiate as if there was no violence,” to exemplify the government's current contradictory policy.
Last Monday at least 10 ELN rebels were killed during a military operation in the Antioquia department. However, the ELN ultimately accepted Santos' call to restart the peace talks, hoping to find a political solution to the conflict and make peace possible.
The insurgent group announced they would hold a unilateral ceasefire between March 9 and 13 in respect of people who intended to vote in Sunday's legislative elections.