Ecuador will no longer host Colombia peace talks: minister

Colombian soldiers are engaged in a massive manhunt for a rebel group that captured and killed a three-member Ecuadoran press team along the two countries' joint border
AFP

Bogota (AFP) – Ecuador will no longer host peace talks between Colombia and that country’s last rebel group, Bogota’s foreign minister said on Wednesday after recent attacks on the border between the neighbors.

The talks between Colombia’s government and guerrillas of the ELN, the National Liberation Army, have been hosted in Quito since early 2017.

But Colombia’s Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said Bogota “understands the reasons why President (Lenin) Moreno has decided to step away from his condition as guarantor and host of these negotiations.”

Holguin thanked Ecuador for its support and said talks will be transferred to either Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Norway or Venezuela.

Earlier Wednesday, Ecuador’s Morena said he had asked his foreign ministry to “put the brakes on these discussions and put the brakes on our role as guarantor in this peace process as long as the ELN doesn’t commit to stopping terrorist attacks.”

There was no immediate comment from the ELN.

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos is trying to conclude a peace agreement with the ELN, similar to the one signed with FARC guerrillas in November 2016. The FARC has since become a political party.

His remarks came as Ecuadoran and Colombian troops pressed a hunt along their respective sides of the border for the Oliver Sinisterra Front, another rebel group responsible for the kidnapping and murder of a three-member Ecuadoran journalist team.

The massive manhunt began on Friday after the journalists’ deaths were confirmed. Colombia’s police chief Jorge Nieto said on Wednesday they had captured one of the group’s leaders.

He identified him as Vicente Canticus Pascal, who goes by the name “Brayan.”

“He is a leader of this organization which is run by Guacho,” a former middle-ranking FARC commander, Nieto told reporters in the port city of Tumaco, where the Colombian hunt is focused. 

He said Brayan was suspected of “direct responsibility” for attacks on police and electricity pylons in the Tumaco area that have left hundreds of thousands of people without power. 

Officials believe Guacho and his group of around 70-80 rebels work for Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. 

Until now, Ecuador has been unable to locate the remains of the murdered journalist team after Guacho suspended moves to coordinate their return on Monday.

The rebels have since announced the capture of another Ecuadoran couple whose whereabouts remain unknown. 

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