Colombia, ELN rebels invite more countries to help in peace talks

Two sides invite Brazil, Chile and Mexico to act as guarantors of negotiations aiming to end decades of armed conflict.

Colombia President Gustavo Petro
Talks between the Colombian government and the country's largest remaining rebel group, the National Liberation Army, come amid President Gustavo Petro's push for 'total peace' [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

The Colombian government and the left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group have invited more countries, including the United States, to be involved in peace talks that began earlier this week in Venezuela.

The two sides agreed on Friday to invite Brazil, Chile and Mexico to join Cuba, Norway and Venezuela as so-called guarantor countries in negotiations that seek to end decades of armed conflict in the South American nation.

The new round of talks resumed on Monday in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, after the process was suspended in 2019.

Following a week of discussions, Colombia’s government and the ELN said in a statement they have worked in an “environment of trust and optimism”.

The negotiating teams said they would invite Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Spain to join the process as “accompanying countries”.

They also agreed to reach out to the US via diplomatic channels “to find out its willingness to participate in the process” and send a special envoy to the negotiating table, according to a statement from Norway.

The talks this week came as Colombia marked the six-year anniversary of a peace deal that saw members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), another rebel group, lay down their weapons.

But some FARC dissidents rejected the agreement and have picked up arms again.

Violence has surged in Colombia over the past few years, especially in parts of the country that lay outside government control and where armed groups are involved in drug trafficking and other illicit activities.

President Gustavo Petro, who took office in August, has promised to bring “total peace” to Colombia after nearly six decades of armed violence, which left at least 450,000 dead between 1985 and 2018 alone.

Previous attempts at negotiations with the ELN, the country’s largest remaining rebel group with approximately 2,500 combatants, have not advanced partly because of dissent within its ranks.

ELN leaders say the group is united, but it is unclear how much sway negotiators hold over active units. The group is primarily active in the Pacific region and along the 2,200km (1,370-mile) border with Venezuela.

Talks between the ELN and the government of Juan Manuel Santos began in 2017 in Ecuador, later moving to Cuba, but were called off in 2019 by Santos’s successor, Ivan Duque, after the ELN bombed a police academy in Bogota.

On Friday, Colombia and the ELN also agreed to resume humanitarian relief but did not offer details. About 30 delegates are attending the talks, which are expected to last three weeks.

Source: News Agencies