Colombia's ELN rebels free second hostage to meet terms for peace talks

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s second-largest rebel group has freed a civilian hostage held for more than six months, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Wednesday, meeting a government condition for the start of peace talks.

The National Liberation Army, or ELN, released Ramon Jose Cabrales, the president said on Twitter. Local media reported the Roman Catholic Church assisted with the liberation.

“I celebrate that Ramon Jose Cabrales is now free and can reunite with his family,” Santos said.

Cabrales was captured by the guerrillas in September.

The 2,000-strong ELN has been conducting exploratory talks with the Colombian government, but Santos has repeatedly said formal negotiations would not begin until Cabrales and a soldier hostage were freed.

The soldier, Jair de Jesus Villar, was freed on Sunday after being held for six weeks.

The Santos administration began peace talks with the larger FARC rebel group in late 2012.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore