New left-wing president and former rebel Gustavo Petro has pushed for a resumption of talks to end the 60-year war.
Colombia’s government and the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s largest remaining rebel group, have launched new peace talks in neighboring Venezuela aimed at ending nearly 60 years of conflict.
The push for the talks, which resumed on Monday after being suspended in 2019, came from Colombia’s new left-wing president Gustavo Petro, a former member of the M-19 terrorist group.
Petro has promised a moderate solution to the violence carried out by armed groups, including left-wing militants and drug traffickers.
Negotiations begin in Venezuela
ELN and Petro representatives met in Venezuela, which restored diplomatic relations with Colombia in August after three years.
The delegates said they had gathered to restart the dialogue “with all political and social will, as the people in rural areas and rural areas that suffer from violence and marginalization, as well as other sectors of society”.
The two groups are ready to “build peace based on democracy and justice”, they said in a joint statement.
The first round will last 20 days, ambassadors from Venezuela, Cuba and Norway will contribute to the negotiations, while representatives from Chile and Spain will observe.
Colombia’s war for decades
Colombia has experienced more than half a century of war between various left-wing terrorist groups, right-wing militias, drug traffickers and the government.
The ELN began in 1964 as a left-wing religious group of students, union leaders and priests inspired by the Cuban revolution.
The group is believed to have around 4,000 fighters in Colombia, and has a presence in Venezuela, where it operates gold mines and drug-trafficking routes.
They are also known for kidnapping people for ransom and oil spills. The United States and the European Union have labeled it a “terrorist” organization.
In 2016, a peace deal ended the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, making the ELN the largest remaining rebel group. It has since increased its operations in areas formerly controlled by the FARC.
Under former President Juan Manuel Santos, the FARC signed a peace agreement, after which it gave up its weapons and formed a political party.
In 2019, peace talks with the ELN were halted by former conservative President Ivan Duque after a bombing at a police academy in Bogota killed 22 people.
All peace to Peter
After winning the elections in August, Petro reached out to the ELN as part of his “total peace” policy.
The ELN delegation spent four years in Cuba, since the previous government forbade them to return to Colombia.
Colombian Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez, however, warned that negotiations do not mean a “suspension” against the ELN.
“If there is an encounter with someone who has an arrest warrant, they must be arrested… There is no ceasefire,” he said.
Terrorist group promises ‘necessary’ reforms
The leader of the ELN, Israel Ramírez Pineda, said that the group wants “big changes”, as the Colombian people wanted in the big demonstrations in 2021 and in this year’s elections by electing Petro, abandoning the traditions of conservative and conservative governments.
“Colombians cannot see each other as enemies, the task we have is reconciliation,” said Ramírez Pineda.
“We believe that the representatives of the government will have the same interlocutor”.
He said the rebels hoped the United States would take a “promoting and supportive attitude” to the talks. The US has for years supported the Colombian military.