Representatives of Colombia’s government and the country’s largest remaining guerrilla group met in Cuba on Tuesday to restart peace talks aimed at reaching a cease-fire and resolving a conflict dating back to the 1960s.
It is the third round of talks with the communist-inspired National Liberation Army, known as ELN, in negotiations relaunched in November shortly after President Gustavo Petro was elected as Colombia’s first leftist president.
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“We encourage you to take advantage of the magic, mysticism and hope that Cuba always offers,” said Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, welcoming Colombia’s government officials and a delegation of the ELN to the capital Havana.
Pablo Beltrán, the rebels’ chief negotiator, said the ELN is committed to a “transformation” to achieve peace and called the meeting a “historic coincidence” to reach a bilateral cease-fire.
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Tuesday’s meeting was marked by a surprise appearance of Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista, alias Gabino, who led the ELN from the 1990s until 2021, when he left citing health reasons.
Also in attendance were Colombian senators Iván Cepeda and María José Pizarro, who said the talks seek to find “real solutions for a country overwhelmed by six decades of war.”
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Petro has said that peace talks with the ELN are a cornerstone of his plan to bring “total peace” to the nation of 50 million people, where some rural areas are still under the grip of drug gangs and rebel groups despite a 2016 peace deal with the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.