Colombia’s second largest rebel group, the ELN, could be close to joining the ongoing peace process between the larger rebel group FARC and the Colombian government, newspaper El Espectador reported Sunday.
According to the publication, the ELN’s release of two German hostages on Friday indicated the rebels were taking measures to reach the initial stages of peace talks with the government. The rebel group has also expressed interest in releasing a Canadian hostage captured in northern Colombia in mid-January.
El Espectador wrote sources “close to the negotiation” said exploratory talks between the ELN and the government were currently happening as of Monday. Apparently, the release of the two Germans was one of the government’s requirements to enter exploratory dialogue with the rebels. Additionally, the same sources said the ELN could consider ending the practice of kidnapping civilians for financial reasons to appease the government.
According to Jaime Bernal Cuellar, the coordinator of a civilian commission propagating for peace talks with the ELN and the government, the end of kidnapping would be an important step towards peace talks.
“I consider that persons cannot be objects of kidnapping and they [must] be returned, but to do it in a voluntary manner is a message so that the government considers the possibility of a dialogue with the ELN. We asked the [ELN rebels] who handed over the German citizens to us about the viability of a peace scenario, and the response was positive. Because of this I see it as a good message in the search to establish negotiations,” said Bernal.
El Espectador wrote that peace talks between ELN and the government could only be realized once the FARC and the government negotiators had reached the first agreements at the ongoing peace talks in Havana, Cuba.
The ELN, with some 2,500 armed members, has been fighting the Colombian state for nearly half a century. The group has, unlike the larger rebel group FARC, not officially vowed to end the practice of kidnapping civilians for financial reasons. According to the conflict-monitoring NGO Nuevo Arco Iris, the rebel group has been going through a process of “strengthening” in various Colombian regions since 2008.