Ecuador pulls support for talks between Colombia, ELN, new venue sought

Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno arrives at the airport for upcoming Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru April12, 2018. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

QUITO/BOGOTA (Reuters) - Ecuador will not be a guarantor country at peace talks between the Colombian government and ELN rebels as long as the guerrillas wage attacks, Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said on Wednesday.

The sometimes-fraught, 14-month-long talks between Colombia and the National Liberation Army (ELN), a group founded in 1964 by radical Catholic priests, resumed in Quito last month after a six-week pause marked by deaths on both sides. Their first ceasefire ended in January.

“I have asked the foreign minister of Ecuador to put the brakes on the conversations and put the brakes on our role as a guarantor of the peace process while the ELN does not commit to ending terrorist actions,” Moreno told Colombian channel NTN24 in an interview.

Moreno did not specify the actions to which he was referring, but the ELN has been held responsible for kidnappings and bombings during the talks.

Two Ecuadorean journalists and their driver were killed last week by a group of former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels who refused to demobilize under a 2016 peace deal. The group is holding a civilian couple.

“President Santos understands the reasons why President Moreno has decided to move away from his role as guarantor and host of these negotiations,” Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said in a televised address, referring to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

“Colombia’s government will immediately begin the necessary procedures to move the talks to one of the countries that was previously established as an alternative site,” Holguin said.

Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Norway and Venezuela are guarantor countries and possible locations for the negotiations.

ELN representative Alirio Sepulveda said on Wednesday that the group would meet with the Colombian and Ecuadorean governments and the other guarantors to look for a solution.

Reporting by Alexandra Valencia and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by David Gregorio