By Richard McColl
BOGOTA, Colombia (AA) – Colombia said late Wednesday that negotiations between the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group will be transferred to an alternate country.
The announcement by Foreign Affairs Minister Maria Angela Holguin came after Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said earlier in the day that his country will no longer host peace talks between Bogota and the rebel group.
The Colombian government immediately activated a backup plan after Moreno suspended his county’s role as host, which began in February last year.
“President [Juan Manuel] Santos completely understands the reasons why President Moreno decided to suspend his nation’s role as guarantor and host of these negotiations,” Holguin said at a press conference.
She said peace talks with the ELN would be moved to one of the pre-agreed locations of Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Venezuela or Norway.
Moreno’s decision came after the kidnapping and murder of two journalists and their driver from the Ecuadorian newspaper El Comercio at the end of March and the subsequent kidnapping of two more Ecuadorian citizens by a FARC guerrilla dissident group.
“I have asked Ecuador’s foreign affairs minister to end these talks and our role as guarantor for as long as the ELN is not committed to ending their terrorist acts,” Moreno said in an interview with Colombian broadcaster RCN.
The terrorist acts took place along the Colombia-Ecuador border where the FARC rebel group, formerly the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, had a significant presence. Since they signed a peace agreement with the government in November 2016 and disarmed, bringing to an end a conflict which began in 1964, a power vacuum has permitted dissident splinter groups to control the transshipment of narcotics and weapons in the area.
The events have strained relations between the two countries.
The ELN is the last remaining guerrilla group in Colombia which has yet to reach a peace deal with the government and has been locked in a conflict since 1964.