Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Monday said he hopes to initiate peace talks with the country’s second largest rebel group ELN “sooner rather than later.”
This is the first time that Santos has publicly expressed such a strong interest in conducting discussions with the ELN. For their part, the rebel group have said on a number of occasions that they are ready to talk about peace.
“When prior governments have set out their willingness for peace, the ELN has been available. Since last year we have said to President [Juan Manuel] Santos that if public opinion is for peace, they can count on the ELN,” said ELN leader Nicolas Rodriguez Bautista, in March 2013.
MORE: Colombia’s ELN rebels ‘ready for peace’ : Leader
The rebel leader, alias “Gabino” said that the possibility of peace talks between the ELN and the government had not been discussed, and therefore he was unable to say how ELN discussions would compare to the current negotiations in Havana.
“It is difficult to say, because to date the reaches and methodologies of the process in Havana are not clear…between the FARC and the government there is an ongoing process and we are not even in exploratory dialogues, for this reason we cannot speak of a single table, we are willing to accept the reality of two separate negotiation tables,” Gabino explained.
The president’s recent announcement may have been prompted by the apparent progress of the FARC peace process. Santos himself said that a peace agreement could be a matter of months away.
MORE: ‘We cannot and should not be divided by peace’: Santos
President Santos on Monday referred to the “difficult decision” he made in initiating a peace process with the rebel group FARC, highlighting a number of conditions he had established before opening negotiations, indicating how a similar process with the ELN could work.
The ELN is Colombia‘s second largest guerrilla group, and was originally formed as a Marxist-Leninist/Liberation movement. However, as currently constituted, the group bears little resemblance to its founding ideology.
- ‘La paz no puede ni debe dividirnos’: Presidente Santos (Presidencia de la Republica)
- Con el Eln iniciaremos conversaciones más pronto que tarde: Santos (Radio Caracol)