Colombia and the ELN, the country’s last standing Marxist rebel group, announced via a joint statement Wednesday that they will begin official peace talks on February 7.
In addition, former Congressman Odin Sanchez will be released by the ELN on February 2, five days prior to the scheduled talks. The government will in exchange pardon two ELN members that same day.
The International Committee of the Red Cross will assist with the hostage releases.
Odin Sanchez’s release has long been a point of contention, and was the reason the two sides postponed the previously scheduled October 27 start date just hours before the talks were set to begin.
According to the statement, the official negotiations will be accompanied by humanitarian commissions formed by the guarantor countries, the Catholic Church, the Colombian government and the ELN.
Guarantor countries include Venezuela, Norway, Cuba, Chile and Brazil.
“We are going to start down a path that should lead us to round up the peace in Colombia. A complete peace…a peace in which human rights, the rights of minorities, and the right to peace are more rigorously respected,” said the government’s chief peace negotiator, Juan Camilo Restrepo, reported El Colombiano.
ELN peace negotiator Pablo Beltran also weighed in on the announcement.
“We hope that the agreement will be useful for peace in Colombia, will make the continent an area of peace, and that our brotherly peoples such as Ecuador, stop receiving the consequences of the Colombian war,” he stated, according to El Colombiano.
President Juan Manuel Santos forecasted the official announcement early Wednesday when he said to expect great news on the matter while at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, where he received the Global Statesman award.
“The Government of Colombia and the ELN are in Ecuador right now, negotiating how to begin official talks. We’ve been there for three and a half years, but I hope that today, before you go to bed, you receive magnificent news on this topic specifically,” Santos told Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs at the forum, according to local media.
The ELN and the government announced peace talks in June 2014 already, but the parties that have been at war for more than half a decade, have since been unable to proceed to formal peace talks.
If the Santos administration is able to negotiate peace with the ELN, it will have removed the original actors that spurred 52 years of violence.
In its 52 years, Colombia’s armed conflict cost the lives of at least 265,000 Colombians and left 7 million homeless or landless.