BOGOTA – The Colombian government expects to begin peace talks with the smaller of the country’s two main rebel groups “in the coming days” as negotiations continue with the largest guerrilla army, Vice President Angelino Garzon said Monday.
Conversations with the ELN will take place outside Colombia, but in a location other than Havana, the venue for the existing peace process with the FARC, Garzon said during the presentation of the National Prize for the Defense of Human Rights.
“The government has decided not to mix pears and apples,” the vice president said.
President Juan Manuel Santos’s administration “remains firm in the proposition of seeking peace for Colombia,” Garzon said.
The ELN, with around 1,500 fighters, met the government’s condition for peace talks with the release two weeks ago of a Canadian mining executive the rebels took prisoner in January.
ELN chief Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista issued a statement explicitly linking the release with the group’s desire for negotiations with the government.
“I want to respond to him by saying that the government is also ready to take that step and I hope we can arrange ... to initiate as soon as possible a dialogue with the ELN to see if, once and for all, we can end the conflict with the two groups,” Santos said the day after the Canadian was freed.
Talks between the Santos administration and the ELN may take place in Uruguay, Colombian media outlets suggest.
That nation’s president, septuagenarian former guerrilla Jose Mujica, has made it clear he would be ready to assist a peace process between the Colombian government and the ELN.
The FARC, which has around 8,000 combatants, and the ELN have battles a succession of Colombian governments since the mid-1960s. EFE