Ecuador President Rafael Correa said Tuesday that his country has hosted preliminary negotiations and hopes to host formal peace talks between Colombia’s government and the country’s second largest rebel group, the ELN.
Following the official announcement of the talks by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Correa told reporters in the southwestern Ecuadorean city of Guayaquil that “a few months ago, extremely confidential for obvious reasons, conversations between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army (ELN) took place.”
Correa’s Colombian counterpart announced the talks earlier Tuesday, only five days before presidential elections are held in which the incumbent faces staunch opposition from hard-line candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga who has been one of the fiercest critic of ongoing peace talks with the FARC, Colombia’s largest rebel group.
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Santos said that an “exploratory” phase of talks had been underway with the ELN since January 2014, after a series of individual meetings between government representatives and rebels in 2013.
The Ecuadorean president said that the talks had been taking place in the northern province of Imbabura, close to the Colombian border.
Correa said that his country is “willing to provide all facilities, to give all our support to continue this dialogues.”
Apart from Ecuador, other countries like Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Norway and Venezuela had been involved with the preliminary talks, the Colombian government said in its initial announcement.
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The Colombian government made no announcement about the location of the peace talks, although Santos indicated he proposed the ELN to be integrated to the peace talks with the FARC the president said are “in its final phase.”
“We can’t have two models for disarmament, not two processes of integration or two truth processes,” said Santos.
Like the FARC, the ELN has been fighting the state since 1964. Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group, the ELN, was originally formed as a Marxist-Leninist/Liberation Theology movement. Today however, the group as currently constituted bears little resemblance to its founding ideology. The ELN regularly kidnaps and targets multinational oil corporations in its rebellious acts, as its strongholds are found in oil-rich areas.
Peace negotiations in 2002 and 2004 between the rebel group and the administration of Alvaro Uribe failed and military pressure intensified. In response, the ELN allied itself with drug gangs such as the Rastrojos to remain intact. The ELN currently has about 2,000 combatants as opposed to the 8,000 currently fighting with larger Colombian rebel group, theFARC.