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ELN rebels edge toward peace process

Colombia’s second largest guerrilla group ELN on Monday gave its strongest indication yet that it is willing to negotiate a peace deal with the government.

“We announce to the country and to the international community that the ELN delegation for exploratory dialog is formed and ready to carry out its promise to Colombia,” claimed the rebel group in an open letter published Monday.

Days before the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas are set to continue their own peace talks in the Cuban capital of Havana on Thursday, the rebels insisted, “the ELN is [also] committed to a political solution.”

While ELN acknowledged there is great interest in the guerrilla group joining FARC in the peace process, the letter offered no concrete promises.

Instead, the ELN document emphasized the value of a bilateral ceasefire as a condition for talks saying, “Creating a non-confrontational environment could help build confidence and conditions for society to participate in a more active and leading role.”

Conversely, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said he will not order a ceasefire with the guerrillas until after a deal has been reached.

ELN has also been critical of the ongoing peace process, calling it “cheap” and “doomed to perish” insofar as it lacks the participation of social movements and will likely not result in widespread change to Colombia’s socioeconomic model.

ELN fighters have been at war with the Colombian armed forces since 1964. While ELN reached its zenith in the mid-1990s with an army of close to 5,000 soldiers, current estimates put their troop strength closer to 2,500.

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