Colombian Rebel Group Accepts Venezuela’s Offer to Mediate Peace Talks

Colombia's second largest rebel group, the ELN, said it would accept Venezuela's offer to mediate peace talks with the Colombian government. Although Colombia has not officially replied to Venezuela's offer or the ELN's acceptance, it has in the past been interested in such talks.

Caracas, Venezuela, September 24, 2005—The Colombian rebel group ELN said in a communiqué yesterday that it would accept Venezuela’s offer to mediate peace talks with the Colombian government.  “The ELN accepts and appreciates the offer from the Venezuelan government and its people,” said the ELN communiqué on its website.

The Chavez government had made an offer to host and mediate peace talks last week, while Chavez was at the UN, but Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has yet to respond to the offer. Colombia’s foreign minister, Carolina Barco, though, said that Venezuela’s offer was “very positive.”

Venezuela’s Minister of the Interior, Jesse Chacon, recently repeated the offer, saying, “If Colombia asks for Venezuela’s participation in the peace process, it would have our support.”

The Uribe government had expressed interest in peace talks with the ELN, Colombia’s second largest rebel group with an estimated 3,500 men and women in arms.

The FARC, the largest Colombian rebel group, however, has not shown interest in peace talks with the government.

The Colombian government is in the process of releasing Gerardo Bermudez (alias Francisco Galán), who would probably be the lead negotiator for the ELN. Once freed, in about three months, Galán plans to travel to Venezuela to prepare for negotiations. Recently, Venezuela’s ambassador to Colombia, Carlos Santiago Ramirez, and the ambassadors of Mexico and Brazil met with Galán in his prison near the Colombian city of Medellín.

The ELN communiqué stated, “The ELN has always considered it important that the international community contributes to the search for peace in our country, within the bounds of healthy cooperation and respect for national sovereignty.”

The ELN, which has been fighting the Colombian government for over 40 years, has been involved in peace talks off and on since 1994, but so far without any success.

The most recent talks took place in Mexico several months ago, but the ELN abandoned these when it expressed its disagreement with Mexican foreign policy.