According to EFE, Vice President Angelino Garzón said on Monday (September 9) that the Colombian government expects to begin peace talks with the smaller of the country’s two main rebel groups, the National Liberation Army (ELN) “in the coming days” as negotiations continue with the largest guerrilla army, the much more demanding, "our-way or no-way Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
COMMENT: As I have said so often in the past, the ELN seems much more inclined to "genuinely negotiate" with the Colombian government than does the "here are our terms" FARC.
Conversations with the ELN will take place outside Colombia, but in a location other than Havana, the venue for the existing peace process with the FARC.
President Juan Manuel Santos' government “remains firm in the proposition of seeking peace for Colombia,” Garzón said, but actual progress is far more likely with the ELN than the FARC.
Ideally, from the government's standpoint, a ratified peace deal with the ELN could be used as leverage to facilitate a deal with the far more hard-line FARC.
The ELN, with around 1,500 fighters, met the government’s condition for peace talks with the release two weeks ago of a Canadian mining executive the rebels kidnapped in January 2013.
ELN chief Nicolás Rodriguez Bautista issued a statement explicitly linking the release with the group’s desire for negotiations with the government.
Talks between the Santos government and the ELN may take place in Uruguay, Colombian media outlets suggest.
The FARC, which has around 8,000 combatants, and the ELN have engaged in open warfare with the Colombian government since the mid-1960s.
Most assuredly, both the ELN and the FARC are well aware that President Santos has said that he would wait until November 2013 to make a decision as to whether he will run for reelection, which puts both rebel groups in a stronger position negotiating-wise.