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Colombia resumes peace talks with ELN rebels

#Colombia #resumes #peace #talks #ELN #rebels

Colombia’s government on Friday gave the green light to resume peace talks with the country’s largest remaining rebel force, a key campaign promise that brought left-wing President Gustavo Petro to power earlier this week.

Colombian government officials on Friday met with members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Havana, where they have been based since 2018, and Bogota said it officially recognized the “legitimacy of dialogue … in the quest for peace.”

“Both parties agree that a dialogue process must be resumed with facts that show Colombian society and the world that this will is real,” said High Commissioner for Peace Danilo Rueda.

The meeting was attended by officials from Norway and Cuba, guarantors of the talks, as well as representatives of the UN Secretary General and the Colombian Bishops’ Conference.

Petro, a former guerrilla fighter who has vowed to continue negotiations with the rebels, has said he wants to secure new peace deals with the ELN and other armed organizations and end the government’s “war on drugs” which he believes has failed.

At a press conference in Bogota, Petro said the rapprochement with the ELN is “a preliminary process, where you look at what’s left four years ago and see what can be salvaged”.

Earlier talks did not get past the exploratory stage after right-wing former President Ivan Duque took power in August 2018.

Following Friday’s announcement from Havana, the Colombian government announced the release of nine people held by the ELN since July 13 in the department of Arauca, which borders Venezuela. The group had held 11 people, but two died in captivity.

The ELN, the country’s last recognized guerrilla group after the disarmament of the FARC, announced its intention to negotiate with Petro shortly after his election.

Hundreds of dissidents from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have continued the fight after their comrades laid down their arms under a 2016 peace deal that ended more than half a century of armed conflict.

Despite the deal, violence has flared up in Colombia over territory and resources between dissidents, the restrained rebel group ELN, paramilitary forces and drug cartels.

Amid the rise in violence, Petro Friday appointed a new military command with the clear goal of “substantially increasing respect for human rights and public liberties” and reducing violence and crime.

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