By Richard McColl
BOGOTA, Colombia (AA) - Talks between the Colombian government and the country’s last remaining major rebel group resumed Thursday in Ecuador, after a more than two-month hiatus.
Negotiations, which began in earnest in February 2017, were suspended Jan. 9 following a series of bomb attacks by National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels immediately after a bilateral cease-fire between the two sides expired.
“We have agreed with the government delegation to resume the fifth cycle of dialogue on Thursday, March 15,” the ELN said on its Twitter account.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced Monday that talks with the ELN would resume after the guerrilla group stuck to its promise of no violence during legislative and congressional elections held Sunday.
Ecuadorian Chancellor Maria Fernanda Espinosa welcomed the development.
“For Ecuador, this is tremendous news that the peace dialogue between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army is to begin once again. We wholly celebrate the fact that this fifth round of talks is taking place and reiterate our commitment to peace in Colombia because peace in Colombia is peace for all of Latin America,” she said in a statement.
Santos, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for successful negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerillas that culminated in a peace deal, will complete his second term as president in August and step down.
He is keen to achieve a lasting peace deal with the country’s remaining guerrilla group, which took up arms in 1964.
The ELN, which is believed to number 1,500 combatants in strategic corridors around Colombia, has represented a serious threat to infrastructure and oil pipelines in recent years, with damages and financial losses to Colombia.
Santos said Monday that both sides will explore “a new cease-fire agreement and termination of hostilities that is far-reaching and verifiable”.
The ELN’s commander-in-chief Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista said in a declaration released Wednesday by his negotiating team in Quito that his group “will continue dialogue” and “will not give up on peace”.