Ceasefire with Colombia's ELN rebels expires, talks continue

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 10, 2018 7:19 AM

BOGOTA (Reuters) - A ceasefire between Colombia's Marxist ELN rebels and the government expired at midnight on Tuesday, ahead of the start of a new round of talks that is expected to renew the pact.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) and the government have been in peace talks in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, since the beginning of last year in a bid to end more than 53 years of fighting. Negotiations are expected to begin again on Wednesday.

The group's first-ever ceasefire, which began in October, ended without being extended as logistical problems prevented the two sides from meeting at the scheduled time on Monday, the government said.

The ELN has said it is not keen on extending the truce under original terms and wants a new deal drawn up. Center-right President Juan Manuel Santos has not said he would launch an immediate offensive against the group now that the ceasefire has ended.

During the ceasefire, reached on Sept. 4, the insurgent group promised to suspend hostage taking, attacks on roads and oil installations, the use of landmines and the recruitment of minors. In turn, the government agreed to improve protection for community leaders and conditions for about 450 jailed rebels.

The 2,000-strong ELN, which has regularly bombed oil infrastructure and taken hostages, has clashed with other armed groups during the suspension of hostilities.

Santos, who leaves office this year, signed a peace deal with the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in late 2016 after negotiations in Cuba that lasted four years.

The FARC is now a political party with a candidate for president in May elections.

Founded by radical Roman Catholic priests in 1964, the ELN has sought peace with the government before but made little progress. It is considered a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.

(Reporting by Helen Murphy; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)