The head of Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group, the ELN, urged Colombia to mend strained diplomatic ties with neighbor Venezuela, “key” in attempts to formalize ongoing peace talks.
ELN leader “Gabino” explained that the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos initiated peace talks using Venezuela as an intermediary.
In an interview with on ELN’s radio station, Gabino said that the current process, pushed by Santos and reportedly hosted by Venezuela, has promised to be the most “durable” in 23 years of on-and-off peace talks.
Gabino, nom-de-guerre of Nicolas Rodriguez, announced on the rebel group’s radio station Radio National Patria Libre last week that the exploratory phase of peace talks with the government are very close to being formalized, with “85-90%” of the agenda set.
The key has been working through Venezuela, according to Gabino. “By this I must say that the Venezuelan government headed by [late] President [Hugo] Chavez has made great efforts for peace in Colombia and if anything we have to appreciate President Chavez for those persistent efforts … likewise for his successor, [current President Nicolas] Maduro.”
“It was through Venezuela that President Santos contacted us to pose to us the need for dialogues.”
Venezuela has also been a key partner in negotiations with the FARC, Colombia’s largest guerrilla group. Along with Cuba, Chile, and Norway, Colombia’s eastern neighbor is a sponsor of the peace process with the FARC.
Last week, Fabrizio Hochschild, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator of the UN in Colombia, expressed “serious concerns” over the potential impact that border tensions with Venezuela could have on ongoing peace talks with the FARC rebel group.
Relations between the two neighbor nations have been tense since Maduro ordered the closure of border crossings and deported over 1,100 Colombians living in Venezuela. The two nations will bring the issue to the United Nations. On Thursday the presidents of both countries agreed to meet for bilateral discussions, but under conditions.
The ELN (National Liberation Army) is Colombia second largest guerrilla group, the largest being the FARC. It has been involved in Colombia’s armed conflict since it started in 1964, and announced informal peace talks with the government in June 2014.