BOGOTA Two dozen fighters from the leftist ELN rebels have surrendered voluntarily to the Colombian navy, the military said on Tuesday, in a sign the group may be losing strength as it prepares to begin peace talks with the government.
The National Liberation Army, or ELN, rebels will start negotiations with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos on Oct. 27 in a bid to end more than 52 years of war.
Many rebels who demobilize do so individually, making the surrender of a large group of fighters unusual.
The rebels from the Cimarron Resistance Front in north-western Choco province handed over their firearms and munitions on Monday, General Juan Pablo Rodriguez said in a statement.
So far during 2016, 252 ELN members have demobilized, 388 have been captured and 46 have been killed in combat, according to the statement.
Despite more than two years of on-and-off closed-door talks with the government, the 2,000-strong ELN has remained active, kidnapping and bombing oil installations.
Santos has staked his legacy on ending his country's wars with the ELN and larger rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Santos was awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize this month for his efforts to end Colombia's conflict with the FARC, despite voters' narrow rejection of the deal signed in September.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Andrew Hay)