Colombia is delaying peace talks with Marxist ELN rebels until they free a politician held captive for six months, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Thursday, according to Reuters.
The National Liberation Army (ELN), the nation's second-biggest insurgent group, must release Odin Sanchez to the International Committee of the Red Cross before talks can begin in Ecuador, Santos said, reiterating a condition he set months ago.
The opening ceremony had been scheduled to take place in Ecuador
but it was canceled at the last minute. The government said the talks could still go forward as early as Friday or Saturday if the rebels free Sanchez, however.
The 2,000-strong ELN, considered a terrorist group by the United States and European Union, has kidnapped hundreds of people during its 52-year insurgency to raise war funds and use hostages as bargaining chips with the government.
Santos won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize
earlier this month for his efforts to end a conflict with the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
More than 220,000 people have been killed in Colombia's long-running armed conflict, which has pitted leftist guerrillas against right-wing paramilitary groups and the security forces.
Founded by radical Catholic priests and inspired by Cuba's 1959 revolution, the ELN has been in on-and-off closed-door talks with the government since 2014 on how the two sides would conduct negotiations.
The rebels have remained active during that time, kidnapping and bombing oil installations, though in recent months they have released some captives.
The government had previously demanded the release of all ELN captives before formal peace talks could begin and Sanchez is believed to be the group's last remaining hostage.