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Colombia, ELN rebels likely to hold emergency meeting in Caracas-negotiator

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Danilo Rueda, Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace, Pablo Beltran, head of the leftist guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN), and Otty Patino, head of the negotiation team of the Colombian Government, attend a news conference after holding the last round of peace talks with Colombia’s government for this year, in Caracas, Venezuela December 12, 2022. REUTERS/Leonardo Fernandez Viloria

Colombia and the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group could hold an emergency meeting in Caracas as early as this week, the head of the government negotiating team said on Tuesday.

Colombia declared and then called off a bilateral ceasefire with the group last week after the ELN said it had not agreed to the move. The government blamed a misunderstanding of the ELN’s position for the about-face.

The two sides held a first cycle of negotiations to end the guerrillas’ part in nearly six decades of war last year in Caracas and was set to begin another round of talks in Mexico.

But Mexico was not yet ready to host, Otty Patino, the head of the government’s negotiating team told Blu Radio and the two sides could hold a prior meeting back in Caracas this week or next.

“We are trying for there to be a prior conversation to complete what was left from the first cycle,” said Patino, who like President Gustavo Petro is a former member of the M-19 urban guerrilla group.

A meeting in Caracas “is not a cycle but an emergency meeting” he added.

Patino denied talks with the rebel group, which counts some 2,400 combatants, are in crisis.

“There isn’t a crisis, there is a pause,” he said. “To talk about a crisis at a negotiating table that is paused seems inadequate to me.”

The government has said ceasefires remain in force with another four groups – two dissident groups founded by former FARC rebels and crime gangs the Clan del Golfo and Self-Defenses of the Sierra Nevada.

Petro, who took office last year, has pledged to seek peace agreements or surrender deals with armed groups of all stripes.

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