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Colombia to launch peace talks with second-largest rebel group

The ELN is about one-fourth the size of FARC, with some 1,500 fighters.? Photograph: (AFP)

WION Bogot? - Bogota, Colombia Oct 11, 2016, 02.03 AM (IST)

The Colombian government is set to launch peace talks with the country's second-largest rebel group, the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN), on October 27, the government announced on Monday. 

The negotiations will take place in Ecuador's capital city of Quito with both sides striving to "create an environment favorable to peace", a joint statement said. 

President Juan Manuel Santos said, "We've been seeking negotiations with the ELN for almost three years to end the armed conflict with them as well... Now that we're moving forward with the ELN, we will have total peace." 

However, the Colombian government said talks will not proceed till all hostages are freed by the ELN. 

Announcement of negotiations with ELN comes days after the government's peace deal with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was rejected by the public in a referendum. They felt the deal allowed the rebels to go scot-free for the atrocities they committed. 

Santos was awarded a Nobel peace prize for his efforts to end the 52-year conflict between the FARC rebels and the government. 

Red Cross said the ELN released a civilian hostage, identified as Nelson Alarcon, before the announcement. Alarcon, who was abducted three months back, is the third hostage to be released by the rebel group in last 14 days. 

Talks with the rebel group began parallel to discussions with FARC. 

"Soon there will be no more civilians in the guerrillas' hands. That's the deal," a source with knowledge of the negotiations told AFP. 

In the statement released in Venezuela, ELN pledged to "initiate the process to free hostages before October 27".

The Colombian authorities claim the insurgent group has one more hostage. 

 The FARC and ELN have been at war with the state since 1964. The ELN is about one-fourth the size of FARC, with some 1,500 fighters. 

(WION with inputs from AFP)

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