Colombian President Santos orders resumption of talks with ELN rebels

FRENCH PRESS AGENCY - AFP
BOGOTA
Published

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the resumption of peace talks with ELN rebels Monday, aiming to conclude an historic deal before leaving office in August, despite election gains for hardliners who reject his policies.

Santos redoubled his commitment to the talks despite his ruling coalition losing ground in Sunday's legislative elections to a right-wing conservative bloc which rejects what it sees as appeasement.

"I have instructed the head of the negotiating team, Gustavo Bell, to travel to Quito and reactivate the dialogue," the president said.

The National Liberation Army, or ELN, the South American country's last active rebel group welcomed the decision in a statement.

Santos's announcement came in response to a unilateral ceasefire by the ELN for Sunday's legislative elections, seen as a test of the group's willingness to get back to negotiations. He said the parties would discuss a new, "broad and verifiable" ceasefire agreement that would prevent a resurgence of violence of the kind that forced the suspension of talks in January.

"We will advance with prudence, firmness and perseverance until we agree on the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration of the ELN, that is, complete peace."

Several rounds of talks had been held over the course of the previous year in the capital of neighboring Ecuador, but Santos suspended them following a series of attacks on police stations that left six people dead and dozens more wounded. Those attacks occurred after a 101-day bilateral ceasefire had expired on January 9,

during a break in the talks.

Santos has made no secret of his dream of "complete peace" in Colombia, having signed a peace deal in November 2016 with its biggest rebel group, the FARC. Its transition to a political party that contested Sunday's legislative elections is something of a triumph for the 66-year-old president, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.

Santos is due to step down on August 7 after two terms. The FARC peace deal and ELN negotiations will top the agenda as the presidential election campaign gets underway. Both left and right-wing coalitions chose their candidates in primaries over the weekend. A hardliner from Uribe's party, Ivan Duque, won the right-wing party as is leading the opinion polls ahead of the May 27 first round.

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