Colombia's ELN rebels call ceasefire for festive period

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s largest active rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), on Monday called a 12-day unilateral ceasefire for the holiday period, while reiterating its intention to seek a negotiated solution to the armed conflict.

President Ivan Duque, who took office in August, has conditioned peace talks to the ELN suspending hostilities, releasing all hostages and locating its fighters in specific geographical area before demobilizing.

The rebel group, accused of financing its war through kidnapping, extortion, drug trafficking and illegal mining, began peace negotiations with the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos, but Duque postponed the talks until it agrees to his terms. The ELN has so far refused the conditions.

“We will carry out a cessation of offensive operations from December 23, 2018, to January 3, 2019, to contribute to a climate of tranquility at Christmas and the New Year,” the ELN said in a statement on its social networks.

“The ELN remains committed to the search for a political solution to the conflict and thus we agree with those who are determined for a peace with changes,” said the ELN, which became the country’s largest rebel group after the peace agreement signed in 2016 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The ELN, founded by radical Catholic priests and currently made up of some 2,000 fighters, has fought more than a dozen government’s since it formed in 1964.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Helen Murphy; Editing by Bill Trott