Colombia’s ELN rebels want to start peace talks following FARC deal

BOGOTA, Sept. 29 (UPI) — Colombia’s National Liberation Army, or ELN, rebel group said it is ready to start peace negotiations following the recent deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The Colombian government under President Juan Manuel Santos was to hold peace negotiations with the ELN in March but the talks were delayed because the group did not meet the government’s demand that its rebels stop kidnapping people.

The ELN, like the FARC, began as a Marxist-inspired insurgency in the 1960s. It was never as large or as powerful as the FARC, but like the FARC its members engaged in drug-trafficking, kidnapping and other illegal activity to fund their campaigns against the government.

“We are ready for the public phase to give continuity to the agreement on March 30 and find solutions to the difficulties,” the ELN said in a statement on Wednesday.

The ELN is made up of up to 3,000 members, but Colombian officials estimate the group’s numbers are decreasing.

More than 220,000 people have died and about 5 million have been internally displaced due to the Colombian conflict primarily attributed to the FARC since its founding in 1964. On Sunday, Colombia will hold a national referendum in which the electorate will decide whether the government’s peace agreement with the FARC is approved.

The ELN said it will not carry out “military actions” from Friday until Wednesday to help “facilitate participation” in the Colombian referendum.

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