BOGOTA Dec 4 Peace talks between the Colombian
government and Marxist insurgent group the National Liberation
Army (ELN) will begin only after a simultaneous release of a
politician held by the guerrillas and two imprisoned rebels, an
ELN leader said.
Colombia's second-largest leftist rebel group and the
government of President Juan Manuel Santos have agreed to begin
peace negotiations in Ecuador, part of Santos' efforts to end a
52-year conflict that has killed more than 220,000 and displaced
But despite more than two years of preliminary talks, formal
negotiations were this month postponed until January. The
government has said the group must release ex-lawmaker Odin
Sanchez, held in the jungle province of Choco, and stop attacks
against oil infrastructure.
"We agreed that all the liberations which have yet to take
place will be done simultaneously and ahead of the start (of
talks)," Israel Ramirez, head of the ELN's negotiating team and
better known by his nom de guerre Pablo Beltran, told Reuters by
"The same day our two are pardoned, Mr. Sanchez will be
free," said Ramirez.
Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize this year for his efforts
to end the civil war.
Ramirez, a member of the ELN's central command, did not name
the two rebels he said should be released. The government said
this week they will only be pardoned if they are legally
"We agreed they will happen simultaneously to eliminate
mutual distrust," Ramirez said. He ruled out a unilateral
ceasefire until an agreement is reached with the government at
Ramirez also denied any division regarding the peace talks
within the 2,000-strong ELN, which is considered a terrorist
group by the United States and the European Union.
Larger rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia, or FARC, late last month signed a revised peace deal
with the government, after an initial agreement was rejected in
a public referendum. The fraught negotiations between the two
sides lasted four years.
As with the FARC talks, Colombians should not expect a short
process with the ELN, Ramirez said.
"To do it well you have to do it with calm and a lot of
caution. I don't mean they will be eternal conversations, but
you can't end a half-century conflict in a couple of weeks," he
The group will for now not halt extortion against mining and
oil projects, Ramirez said.
Under a peace deal, the rebels would seek power as a
political party in alliance with other leftist groups, he added.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb;
Editing by Clelia Oziel)