Bogota (AFP) – Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Sunday he would seek a new truce with the ELN group in a bid to salvage peace talks that had been set back after a recent offensive by the rebel group.
The ELN indicated a willingness to resume negotiations.
Santos wrote on Twitter that the government’s chief negotiator, Gustavo Bell, “will travel to Quito to explore the possibility of a new ceasefire that will allow peace talks with the ELN to continue.”
The president said his decision followed a call from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who urged him to renew dialogue with the leftist guerrillas. Guterres had met with Santos in Bogota earlier this month to discuss the peace process.
The government suspended talks on Wednesday following an offensive by the ELN — the National Liberation Army, the last active guerrilla group in Colombia — that ended a 101-day ceasefire.
In recent days, the guerrillas have attacked government forces and targeted petroleum infrastructure. At least four soldiers have been killed, and some 22 presumed rebels were captured in a government counteroffensive, officials said.
The ELN has meanwhile released a statement expressing a willingness to resume the peace talks, which began in February 2017, and to discuss “all pending issues.”
It said it was prepared “to agree to another ceasefire.”
Santos, who is set to step down in August, hopes to reach an agreement similar to the one signed with the much larger FARC guerrilla group in November 2016. That accord led to the Communist rebels’ disarmament and transformation into a political party.
Colombia’s long internal conflict has had a devastating impact, leaving eight million people dead, unaccounted-for or displaced.