Colombian govt says ELN rebels releasing hostage ex-lawmaker

Release of Odin Sanchez is the answer to the delayed peace talks between government and country's second largest rebel group ELN, according to Columbia's president.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos speaks during a joint press conference with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (out of frame) after a meeting at Narino presidential palace in Bogota, on October 27, 2016.

Colombia's National Liberation Army or ELN rebels have begun the process of releasing a hostage at the center of a dispute threatening planned peace talks with the government, a top official said Thursday.

Earlier during the day, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos had said he is delaying peace talks with ELN, the country's second largest rebel group, unless they first release a former congressman, Odin Sanchez, who has been held hostage for the past six months.

The talks' opening had been planned for Thursday in Quito.

"We have been informed by the Red Cross that the operation to free (hostage ex-lawmaker Odin Sanchez) has begun," said Juan Camilo Restrepo, the government's chief negotiator for the talks.

TV grab on October 26, 2016 from Colombia's RCN Channel showing the National Liberation Army (ELN) hostage ex-lawmaker Odin Sanchez. (AFP Archive)

Restrepo said he believed the hostage handover would be completed by November 3, when the first round of actual negotiations had been scheduled to begin.

"The government celebrates this news, and notes this operation, which it hopes will come to a satisfactory conclusion," he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross often facilitates the handover of hostages from Colombian rebel groups after their release has been agreed.

Santos won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month for his efforts to end a conflict with Colombia's main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono in Havana, Cuba. (Reuters Archive)

The government had previously demanded the release of all ELN captives before formal peace talks could begin and Sanchez is believed to be the group's last remaining hostage.

The armed conflict in Colobmia began in the 1960’s as a rural uprising, before exploding into a drug-fueled war.

It has attracted a multitude of leftist rebel groups, right-wing paramilitaries and drug gangs over the decades.

The civil war has left 220,000 people dead, 45,000 missing and nearly seven million displaced, according to official figures. According to human rights groups both sides are guilty of committing atrocities.

TRTWorld and agencies