Colombia to begin peace talks with ELN

Colombia’s government launches peace talks with country's second biggest rebel group

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Frank Pearl (L), head of Colombian government delegation and Antonio Garcia, head of National Liberation Army (ELN) delegation, sign a joint statement to begin formal peace talks at Venezuela's Foreign Ministry in Caracas, March 30, 2016.

The Colombian government will soon begin peace talks with leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels to end the long lasting conflict between the two sides.

The talks are set to start within two months, with hopes that Colombia’s largest rebel group - the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) - will also abide by the deal.

"If we achieve peace, it will be the end of the guerrillas in Colombia and therefore in Latin America," said President Juan Manuel Santos.

The president’s chief negotiator Frank Pearl and Antonio Garcia, a commander from the ELN, gave a joint statement on Wednesday.

The government and ELN "have agreed to set up public talks... in order to sign a final accord to end the armed conflict and agree on changes in search of peace and equity," they said.

The government has been in preliminary talks with the ELN for two years which are separate from those held with FARC.

The two groups, FARC and ELN will establish peace talks with the ones left in the conflict which has involved right- and left-wing paramilitaries, government troops and drug trafficking gangs

"A peace process with the ELN means that Colombia now has the opportunity to end completely the 52 years of armed conflict with both guerrilla groups," said Kyle Johnson, an analyst at the International Crisis Group.

Both sides stated that Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Norway and Venezuela will act as guarantor nations.

FARC's chief negotiator Ivan Marquez said that it is "a historic moment for Colombia," on his twitter account.

The talks with FARC have been developing since 2012.

Even though a peace deal was to be signed on March 23, the deadline was missed due to key issues that have not been resolved.

The talks with the ELN "are of a very different nature from the Havana process because the ELN and the FARC are very different organisations," Santos said in a speech in Colombia.

"But the end of the conflict is one and the same," he added.

The civil conflict has resulted in the deaths of more than 260,000 people, while 45,000 people have gone missing and 6.6 million have been uprooted by the fighting.

According to officials ELN has some 15,000 members while FARC has around 7,000.

ELN’s lack of top leadership "has made negotiations for a roadmap more complex," a Colombian government source said.

While FARC has declared a ceasefire, ELN has failed to do so.

A Colombian soldier and a politician held as hostages by ELN were recently released.

TRTWorld and agencies