CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Colombia’s government and its largest remaining rebel group on Monday said they will continue to hold peace talks in Mexico following three weeks of negotiations in Venezuela’s capital that have only yielded modest results.
Negotiations between Colombia and the National Liberation Army, known as the ELN, were suspended in 2019 following a rebel attack on a police academy in Bogota, in which 23 people were killed. But President Gustavo Petro restarted peace talks with the group in November, shortly after he was elected and became the nation’s first leftist president.
Petro has said that peace talks with the ELN are a cornerstone of his plan to bring “total peace” to the nation of 50 million people, where some rural areas are still under the grip of drug gangs and rebel groups despite a 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
On Tuesday, delegates from Petro’s government and the ELN published a statement in which they announced they had agreed on a plan to provide humanitarian relief to rebel fighters in Colombian prisons and also to villages in two regions of Colombia that have been hard hit by the conflict.
Pablo Beltran, the rebel’s chief negotiator, said that he hoped a ceasefire could be agreed upon during the next round of peace talks, which will begin in January.
The ELN has around 4,000 troops in Colombia and neighboring Venezuela, where human rights groups have reported the group runs drug trafficking routes and illegal goldmines.
The rebel group was founded in 1964 by intellectuals inspired by the Cuban revolution and was often smaller than the FARC. But in recent years, the ELN has become more influential in rural pockets of Colombia that were abandoned by the FARC rebels after they made peace with the government.
Mexico, Norway, Venezuela, Chile and Cuba are acting as guarantor nations in the ELN peace talks.
Suarez reported from Bogota, Colombia