Colombia's government, ELN rebels agree to restart peace talks next month

CARACAS/BOGOTA Oct 4 (Reuters) - Colombia's government and left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group will reestablish peace talks next month, both parties said on Tuesday.

Delegations of Colombia's government and the ELN will restart negotiations after the first week of November, the parties said in a statement signed by guerrilla commanders Antonio Garcia and Pablo Beltran as well as the country's high commissioner for peace, Danilo Rueda.

"For Colombia's government and the ELN, society's participation in this process is essential in the changes that Colombia needs to build peace," said the statement, which was released during a news conference in Venezuela's capital, Caracas.

Rueda traveled to Cuba to meet ELN representatives in Havana just days after the inauguration of President Gustavo Petro, the first leftist to lead Colombia.

"We think that, with this opportunity, Colombia's new political circumstances have allowed negotiations to restart," Garcia told journalists.

Asked about the possibility of a bilateral ceasefire, Rueda said the parties were still "in a phase of building trust" and that whatever is agreed will be by both sides, and that what is agreed upon will be fulfilled.

Previous attempts at negotiations with the ELN, which has some 2,400 combatants and is accused of financing itself through drug trafficking, illegal mining and kidnapping, have not advanced partly because of dissent within its ranks.

Representatives of the ELN, which was founded in 1964 by radical Catholic priests, remained in Cuba after previous talks, begun under the government of former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, were called off in 2019.

Petro has said discussions could begin where those with the Santos administration left off and that he would recognize the protocols agreed with help from guarantor countries such as Norway and Venezuela.

Talks between the ELN and the Santos government began in Ecuador, later moving to Cuba, but were called off by Santos' successor Ivan Duque because the ELN refused to halt hostilities and killed 22 police cadets in a Bogota bomb attack.

Reporting by Vivian Sequera in Caracas and Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Chris Reese and Paul Simao

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Vivian reports on politics and general news from Venezuela's capital, Caracas. She is interested in reporting on how Venezuela's long economic crisis, with its rampant inflation, has affected human rights, health and the Venezuelan people, among other topics. She previously worked for the Associated Press in Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba and Brazil.

Thomson Reuters

Luis Jaime has worked at Reuters for more than 30 years. While he chiefly covers Colombia's armed conflict and the fight against drug trafficking from capital Bogotá, he also reports on politics, human rights, corruption, sports and the coffee industry, as well as companies in the energy and mining sectors. Before joining Reuters, he worked for Colombia's Caracol Radio network for five years. Contact: +573102107084