0555 GMT April 23, 2019
The Latin-American country’s second-largest rebel group and Bogota began their formal talks in Ecuador on Tuesday. The ELN, founded by Catholic priests, has been engaged in on-and-off preliminary talks with the government since 2014.
They hope to achieve an accord similar to the one negotiated in 2016 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the then-largest rebel group in Colombia. That historic deal has allowed the former FARC rebels to establish a political party in exchange for laying down arms.
“Fortunately, today in Colombia, we are trying to develop a political solution to the conflict,” the ELN’s negotiator Pablo Beltran said at the opening of the talks, which are being held outside the Ecuadorian capital of Quito.
The Colombian government’s chief negotiator, Juan Camilo Restrepo, for his part, said that the two sides would remain “loyal” to the agenda of peace and try to move the negotiations forward as swiftly as possible.
“Peace is for all Colombians; it’s peace for the region and a ray of hope for humanity. New generations, the victims of the conflict, and the whole world are waiting for us to be wise and big enough to overcome this futile war,” Restrepo added.
The agenda of the talks with the 2,000-strong ELN will cover similar issues as those pursued formerly in the negotiations with the FARC, such as political participation, disarmament, and compensating victims.
Bogota and the FARC signed a revised peace pact in late 2016 following four years of delicate negotiations. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to make peace with FARC.
More than 220,000 people have been killed during more than five decades of conflict between armed rebels and the government in Colombia.