Colombia and ELN rebels will start official peace talks this month

Colombia and ELN rebels will start official peace talks this monthThe Colombian government and the country's second largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), have announced the beginning of formal peace negotiations later this month, BBC reported on Tuesday.

The talks will be launched in Ecuador's capital, Quito, on 27 October.

President Juan Manuel Santos urged both sides to be realistic in their demands, saying: "Time is the biggest enemy."

Meanwhile Santos is trying to salvage a peace accord with FARC rebels, which was rejected by voters earlier this month.

Informal talks with the ELN began three years ago, he said. The announcement of an "open phase" in the negotiations was made in Venezuela, which will be one of the guarantors of the process. The others will be Norway, Cuba, Chile, Brazil and Ecuador.

It was six months ago that the ELN appeared in Caracas, together with government envoys, saying they were ready to begin proper negotiations.

But President Santos said that would not happen until they had freed all the people they held hostage. The ELN insisted that the issue of the hostages should be part of the actual negotiation.

They seemed to have met each other half way - in the past two weeks the ELN has released three people. And although they have not freed everyone they have kidnapped, they said they would release two more people before talks begin in Quito on 27 October.

The rebels have made a commitment not to carry out any more kidnappings, Santos said in a recorded televised statement.

The ELN guerrilla group was founded in 1964 to fight Colombia's unequal distribution of land and riches, inspired by the Cuban revolution of 1959. Over the decades, the group has attacked large landholders and multinational companies, and repeatedly blown up oil pipelines. To finance itself it has resorted to extortion, kidnappings and drug trafficking.
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