Colombia's FARC rebels call on government to bring ELN into talks

HAVANA Tue Jul 2, 2013 1:33pm EDT

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HAVANA (Reuters) - Colombia's FARC rebels, the country's biggest insurgent group, called on Tuesday for the government to broaden peace talks to include its smaller counterpart known as the ELN, a day after the two groups announced they would work more closely together.

Colombia's government has been in peace negotiations in Cuba with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, since November in the hope of ending five decades of war.

The government has said it was willing to talk with the ELN, or National Liberation Army, but separately from the FARC.

"We are talking about involving them in the dialogue and that they become part of the discussions," said Pablo Catatumbo, one of the FARC negotiators at the talks in Cuba's capital, Havana.

Catatumbo told reporters the ELN could join the FARC's negotiations with the government which deal with issues including disarmament, land reform and political participation, or the ELN can pursue discussions of its own.

The request comes a day after the two rebel groups announced that they held a secret meeting in Colombia last month in which they put past differences behind them and agreed all rebel groups should be involved in peace talks going forward.

"We will do everything in our power so that the discussions between the sister organization and the Colombian government actually take place," the FARC said in a statement on Tuesday.

The FARC and the ELN had fought each other for control of drug trafficking routes, but maintained a cordial distance in recent years.

Involving another party now could slow progress in the already drawn-out talks and the request is likely to frustrate President Juan Manuel Santos, who has insisted that the FARC stick to conditions for talks agreed at the outset.

Both the ELN and the FARC have battled a dozen governments since they were founded in 1964 and are considered terrorist groups by the United States and the European Union.

The ELN was inspired by the Cuban revolution and established by radical Catholic priests.

(Writing by Peter Murphy; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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