Colombia President Santos meets surrendered ELN rebels

19.07.2013 13:21

Colombia's President Juan Manuel
Santos has met 30 rebels of the ELN,
the country's second largest armed
group, who laid down their arms.
Mr Santos called the development "a
great step towards peace".
The ELN, or National Liberation Army, is
not part of the peace talks with
Colombia's largest rebel group, the Farc,
but its leaders have expressed interest in
joining the negotiations.
The government has insisted that the
ELN must first release its hostages.
The left-wing group has around 1,500
members, officials say.
The 30-strong group surrendered their
arms in the south-eastern region of
'Largest surrender'
Speaking in Cali, Mr Santos personally
greeted the rebels, among them three
pregnant women, who surrendered their
arms and equipment.
"This is what the [peace] process is
about. So every member of the ELN and
the Farc follows their path fighting for
their ideals, but without violence and
without arms," he said.
This is the biggest single ELN contingent
to surrender, Mr Santos said.
On Monday, Farc's chief peace
negotiator said the armed conflict that
has lasted nearly five decades was
nearing its end.
Ivan Marquez, who is taking part in talks
with the Colombian government in Cuba,
called on left-wing parties and unions to
join the effort to achieve peace.
The government wants to sign a peace
accord by November.
But Mr Marquez warned against rushing
into a settlement.
"It is possible [to reach an agreement by
November]. But to achieve peace you
need time. A bad peace deal is worse
than war," he said in an interview with
Colombian network RCN.
The first direct talks between Colombia's
largest rebel group and the government
were launched in November last year.
So far, however, the ELN has been left
out of the talks.
Last month, in what was seen as an
attempt to get the rival rebels to join the
talks, the Farc issued a statement saying
the two groups were discussing
But the government insists that the
rebels must first lay down their arms and
surrender all hostages.
The group recently released a Colombian
soldier but is believed to be holding
other hostages.
Chief government negotiator Humberto
de la Calle said the aim of the Cuban
peace talks was to get the rebels to give
up their armed struggle and join the
political process.
Agreement has already been achieved on
land reform, but the negotiations are
continuing on five other items on the
The Farc negotiator said recently that a
Constitutional Assembly should be called
to endorse the agreements reached in
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia (Farc) are thought to have
some 8,000 fighters, down from about
16,000 in 2001.
This is the fourth attempt at a negotiated
peace deal since the beginning of the
conflict in the 1960s.