Colombian government to kick off peace talks with rebel ELN group
Despite referendum setback, President Santos turns attention to country’s second-largest guerrilla army
Colombia’s government and the country’s second-largest rebel group, the ELN National Liberation Army, will start peace talks on October 27 in Quito, Ecuador, both sides have announced.
The guerrilla group, thought to number between 1,300 and 2,000 members, has promised to begin the process of releasing two hostages before this date as a show of good faith, although the rebels have not released details on how many people they currently hold captive.
The announcement of the talks comes a week after Colombians narrowly rejected a peace deal between the country’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in a plebiscite – a result that has seen Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos forced to start a new national dialogue on peace.
Many people fear that ELN rebels could move into areas of Colombia abandoned by the FARC
Santos was awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in brokering the peace deal and has said he is determined to continue with the process despite the plebiscite setback.
The deal Santos brokered with the FARC was praised on the international stage but former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe campaigned for voters to reject the document on the basis that it would allow FARC members to join mainstream politics and enjoy legal immunity.
If the Santos government does, however, manage to forge lasting peace deals with the FARC and the ELN, it will go some way to ensuring stability in a country that has suffered through a five-decade-long civil war that has cost the lives of at least 220,000 Colombians and displaced close to six million people.
The upcoming peace negotiations between Colombian government negotiators and the ELN come after preliminary talks held in different South American countries and will focus on how to incorporate citizen participation into the peace process as well as the legal status of ELN members who have previously appeared in court over their involvement with the group.
The ELN has not released details on how many hostages they currently hold
The ELN was founded in 1964, at around the same time as the FARC, with an ideology blending Christianity, Marxism and radical nationalism. Colombian authorities put the number of group members at 1,300, while some analysts say it is as high as 2,000.
While smaller than the FARC, which has around 6,500 members, the group has intensified its attacks in the last five years, with many fearing that the ELN rebels could move into those areas of Colombia abandoned by the FARC.
A total of eight Colombian presidents have attempted to launch peace talks with the group, which is much more political in nature than the FARC.
English version by George Mills.