Archives>LATIN AMERICA> TColombia resumes rebel dialogue

Colombia resumes rebel dialogue
BBC News . 22 december 2001

The ELN Christmas truce lasts until 6 January
The civil war kills more than 3,000 people every year

The Colombian Government says it is resuming formal talks with the country's second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN). Dialogue was suspended four months ago with the 5,000-strong group.

President Andres Pastrana said the decision recognised the group's recent declaration of a temporary ceasefire over the Christmas period, due to last until 6 January.

Mr Pastrana said the government acknowledged the political status of the ELN and was suspending arrest warrants against its leaders.

His chief peace negotiator, Camilo Gomez, said: "In light of the developments with the ELN, the government has issued the required measures to declare the resumption of the process."

Seeking progress
Contact between the ELN and the Colombian Government broke down in August, but resumed in November.

In recent weeks, the government and the ELN have moved closer to reopening talks, with negotiations on a permanent ceasefire scheduled for January.

Talks with the main left-wing rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), have made no progress.

Correspondents say that President Pastrana, who was elected on the promise that he would negotiate a solution to the country's 37-year civil conflict, is desperate for progress.

The president's term of office expires in August.

For its part, the ELN - hard hit by the armed forces and right-wing paramilitaries - wants to hammer out a deal while it still has some military leverage left.

"The ELN is convinced that it cannot win and that, eventually, it could be defeated. Its desire for peace has surged from this situation," wrote political analyst Alfredo Rangel in the Colombian press on Friday.

The FARC has not declared any truce for Christmas so far and correspondents say it is unlikely to do so.

Three years of peace talks between the government and the FARC have gone nowhere.