QUITO (Reuters) - Colombia’s government and Marxist ELN rebels agreed to work toward a ceasefire, both sides said on Friday, a move that would improve security in the country where a peace accord with another guerrilla group led to its disarmament last week.
The government and the National Liberation Army (ELN), the second-largest insurgent group, began formal peace negotiations in February after more than three years of secret talks to draw up the agenda and logistics.
The parties agreed to form a special panel on “humanitarian actions and dynamics” that will assess whether conditions are adequate to call a ceasefire and an end of hostilities, a Colombian government statement said.
Pablo Beltran, leader of the ELN negotiating team in Quito, Ecuador, said the rebels would like to see a ceasefire in place before Pope Francis visits Colombia in September.
Friday’s agreement includes the creation of a team that would provide education and communication and representatives of other countries to provide support and cooperation at the negotiating table.
Beltran told reporters in Quito that the novelty of the latest cycle of talks is that “we begin discussions of a ceasefire that in addition to stopping offensive operations between the parties, brings humanitarian aid to the population.”
The next cycle begins on July 24 in Quito.
The government and the ELN want an agreement similar to last year’s deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s biggest rebel group.
In the past two weeks, FARC fighters have handed in all but a few of their firearms - and the bigger explosive weapons - to the United Nations to end its part in Latin America’s oldest conflict in which more than 220,000 were killed over five decades.
The ELN, which has some 2,000 combatants and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, is accused of kidnapping, killing and attacks on Colombia’s oil and energy infrastructure, as well as extortion of oil and mining multinationals.
Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; additional reporting by Jose Llangari; Writing by Helen Murphy; editing by Grant McCool