Colombia’s government announced Sunday it would continue informal negotiations with the country’s last remaining guerrilla group, the ELN, instead of kicking off the first formal round of peace talks on Tuesday as planned.
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.
“The resumption of talks to fix the date for installing the public roundtable will take place on Thursday, January 12 in Quito, Ecuador,” the government’s chief negotiator, Juan Camilo Restrepo, said in a press statement.
According to Restrepo, an informal negotiation team will meet with the ELN’s representatives in Ecuador to “seek formulas of understanding that will lead to the start of a public roundtable for talks.”
In spite of already having agreed on an agenda, both the government and ELN have repeatedly introduced new demands that have effectively prevented the inauguration of formal talks.
After the government introduced the demand to release one hostage, the guerrillas demanded the simultaneous release of two imprisoned rebels.
When Santos demanded all rebel hostages be released, he effectively halted the talks as the ELN sees its unknown number of civilian and political hostages as irreplaceable leverage.
The extended informal talks will take place two days after the demobilization deadline of the FARC, until late last year the country’s largest guerrilla group, and the ELN’s ideological and military ally.
Without the FARC, the 1,500-man ELN force is significantly weaker entering negotiations.
If the administration of President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos 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.