Colombia govt, guerrilla group take steps toward peace talks

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Colombia govt, guerrilla group take steps toward peace talks

Colombia's new government and members of the nation's last guerrilla group have taken steps toward restarting peace talks that were suspended three years ago in Cuba.

President Gustavo Petro, a former member of the M- 19 guerrilla group, has promised to establish total peace in Colombia and sent a high-level delegation to Cuba this week to meet with National Liberation Army ELN representatives there.

On Friday, after a meeting between representatives of both sides in Havana, Colombia's national peace commissioner, Danilo Rueda, said that the government would take the necessary judicial and political steps to make peace talks possible with the National Liberation Army, known as the ELN.

He said that included lifting arrest warrants for ELN negotiators who are currently living in exile in Cuba.

Rueda said in his statement that the ELN believes that the ELN has the same desire for peace as the Colombian government. They hope that they are listening to the many voices in different territories who are trying to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. Peace talks between Colombia's previous government and the ELN were terminated in 2019 after the rebels set off a car bomb at a police academy in Bogot and killed more than 20 cadets.

After that incident, Colombian authorities issued arrest warrants for ELN leaders in Cuba for the peace negotiations. Cuba refused to extradite them, arguing that doing so would compromise its status as a neutral nation in the conflict and break with diplomatic protocols.

The United States placed Cuba on its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Petro wants to start peace talks with the country's remaining armed groups in an effort to reduce violence in rural areas and bring lasting peace to the nation of 50 million people.

A peace deal between the government and the country's largest guerrilla army in 2016 helped reduce kidnappings, homicides and forced displacement.

Violence has picked up in some parts of the country as Farc dissidents, drug traffickers and the ELN fight over cocaine smuggling routes, illegal mines and other resources abandoned by the Farc.

According to Cerac, a thinktank that monitors violence in Colombia, criminal groups staged almost 90 attacks on the police and military in July, killing 13 police officers. That made it one of the most dangerous months for Colombia's Armed Forces in the past two decades.

The ELN, founded in 1964, has been designated by the US state department as a foreign terrorist organization. The group has 2,500 fighters in Colombia and operates drug traffickers routes, extortion rackets and illegal mines in neighboring Venezuela.