The Colombian government on Tuesday announced that it will re-establish peace talks next month with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s largest rebel group.
The announcement came at a press conference in Caracas on Tuesday afternoon, which was attended by Danilo Rueda, Colombia’s high commissioner for peace, as well as United Nations officials and representatives from the guarantor countries of Norway, Cuba, and Venezuela.
“For Colombia’s government and the ELN, society’s participation in this process is essential in the changes that Colombia needs to build peace,” said a joint statement signed by Rueda and ELN commanders that was released during the press conference.
A peace deal with the ELN is seen as vital to ending Colombia’s six-decade civil conflict, which has killed at least 450,000 and displaced 7mn, but had been elusive since ELN’s larger rivals, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), demobilised following a peace deal signed in 2016.
The ELN, which has around 2,400 fighters and operates across swaths of Colombia and inside neighbouring Venezuela, previously held talks with the government that were broken off in 2018, when the ELN refused to stop attacking military targets.
The rebel group has funded its war chest through drug trafficking, illegal mining, kidnapping, and extortion. It is considered by both the United States and the European Union to be a terrorist group.
Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s new leftist president, had promised to resume talks with the ELN and other armed groups before he took office on August 7.
“We think that, with this opportunity, Colombia’s new political circumstances have allowed negotiations to restart,” the ELN’s commander Antonio Garcia told journalists at the press conference.