Sun, Sep 09, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Colombia to wait until last moment for rebel decision

AFP, BOGOTA

Colombia would wait until the last minute to see if National Liberation Army (ELN) Marxist rebels released their remaining hostages before deciding whether to restart stalled peace talks, Colombian President Ivan Duque said on Friday.

Duque gave the ELN a one-month deadline after his inauguration on Aug. 7 to convince him it is serious about laying down arms and reentering civilian life.

“Today, I want us to wait for the liberation of hostages,” Duque told a news conference, at which he was expected to announce his final decision.

The Colombian government has estimated that the guerrillas, the last recognized armed rebel group operating in the country, are holding at least 17 people.

“I want to progress toward demobilization, disarmament and reinsertion of the ELN, but let’s not deceive ourselves, we need the total suspension of criminal activities,” Duque said.

Colombia’s ombudsman on Wednesday revealed that three kidnapped soldiers had walked free from ELN captivity.

They were among nine people, mostly government forces, captured last month.

“If these acts of good faith take place, if they liberate the hostages and suspend criminal activities, the government is ready to proceed,” Duque said. “But what we can’t do is keep validating violence.”

Duque had previously insisted that the liberation of hostages was a prerequisite to restarting peace talks put on hold a month ago, when former Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos left office.

Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize for signing a historic accord with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebels in 2016, turning that Marxist armed group into a political party after more than 50 years of violent insurrection.

Speaking from Cuba, which hosted peace talks, ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltran said his group was prepared to restart the peace process.

He told Colombian radio station Kapital Stereo that the ELN wants to release its hostages, but said it would not be possible before the end of the government’s deadline.

“I would say it could happen at the end of this week or beginning of the next one,” he said, blaming military operations against his group for the delay.

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