Colombia, ELN rebels invite three more countries to help with peace talks

A view shows the Humboldt Hotel at the top of El Avila National Park where the news conference took place after renewed peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels began, in Caracas, Venezuela November 21, 2022. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/File Photo

CARACAS/BOGOTA, Nov 25 (Reuters) - Colombia's government and leftist guerrilla group the National Liberation Army (ELN) said on Friday they have agreed to invite Brazil, Chile and Mexico as so-called guarantor countries in peace talks that seek to end nearly 60 years of conflict.

The peace talks, which had been suspended in 2019, resumed in the Venezuelan capital Caracas on Monday.

Leftist Colombian President Gustavo Petro, a former member of the M-19 insurgency who took office in August, has promised to bring "total peace" to Colombia after the South American country signed a peace deal at the end of 2016 with the much larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Following a week of discussions, Colombia and the ELN said in a statement they have worked in an "environment of trust and optimism." They agreed to bring in Brazil, Chile and Mexico to join Cuba, Norway and Venezuela, as countries who can ensure compliance with commitments made.

They will also invite Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Spain to join and will encourage the United States to appoint a special envoy to the negotiating table.

Colombia and the ELN also agreed to resume humanitarian relief, but did not offer details.

Previous attempts at negotiations with the ELN, which has some 2,400 combatants and was founded in 1964 by radical Catholic priests, have not advanced partly because of dissent within its ranks.

ELN leaders say the group is united, but it is unclear how much sway negotiators hold over active units. Much of the ELN's negotiating team is older than its rank and file.

Talks between the ELN and the government of Juan Manuel Santos began in 2017 in Ecuador, later moving to Cuba, but were called off in 2019 by Santos' successor, Ivan Duque, because the ELN refused to halt hostilities and killed 22 police cadets in a bombing.

Reporting by Vivian Sequera in Caracas and Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota; Writing by Anthony Esposito; editing by Grant McCool

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