Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos speaks to the press after casting his vote at a polling station in Bogota during parliamentary elections in Colombia, on March 11, 2018. Santos said on Monday that he's resuming peace talks with his nation's last remaining rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN). (RAUL ARBOLEDA / AFP)
BOGOTA - Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Monday announced that his government will resume peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas to end five decades of fighting.
Santos suspended the talks after a three-month bilateral ceasefire expired in early January and the rebels immediately went on the offensive, launching a deadly attack on a police station in northern Colombia.
Attacks escalated since peace talks were suspended, leading Santos to order the government negotiation team to return to Quito, Ecuador, which has been hosting the dialogue
Attacks and counter attacks have only escalated since then, leading Santos to order the government negotiation team to return to Quito, Ecuador, which has been hosting the dialogue.
"As leader, but above all as a human being, I cannot give up doing everything I can, until I have exhausted every recourse, so that no more lives are lost, no more people are injured or mutilated, no more damage is inflicted on infrastructure or wildlife due to the conflict with the ELN," Santos said in a televised address.
Santos also noted his government's peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's largest guerrilla force until it renounced fighting 15 months ago, has successfully abated violence, even during legislative elections on Sunday.
"This Sunday, we experienced the most peaceful and the most transparent elections in half a century, with the largest number of candidates, the largest number of voting stations and greater participation," said Santos.
"The FARC, now demobilized and disarmed, took part as a political party, they exchanged bullets for ballots, violence for democracy. That is precisely why we undertook the peace process," added Santos.
Meanwhile, in a show of good will, the ELN declared a temporary unilateral truce to allow voting to proceed without incident.
"It is with such gestures, not with terrorist attacks, that the ELN can rebuild the minimum of trust needed to make progress along the path of dialogue," said Santos.
While Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for his peace brokering efforts, not all Colombians are convinced that negotiating with the rebels is the right strategy, with more hardline groups saying the rebels should be military defeated.
The ELN confirmed it will attend the resumption of talks in Quito, saying via Twitter: "we will heed President Santos' call to restart the talks."