September 28, 2018 / 7:09 PM / 2 months ago

Colombia president trying to 'shatter' peace process, ELN rebels say

Colombia's President Ivan Duque Marquez sits in the chair reserved for heads of state before delivering his address during the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian President Ivan Duque’s pledge not to restart stalled peace talks with ELN rebels until the group has freed all hostages and his rejection of Venezuela as a guarantor country are part of a plan to “shatter” the process, the guerrillas said on Friday.

Right-wing Duque has said the 2,000-strong National Liberation Army (ELN) must free all 19 hostages it had been holding and stop criminal activities as conditions for resuming dialogue. The group has so far released nine of the hostages, all members of the security forces or military contractors. The remaining 10 are civilians.

Duque, who took power in August pledging to take a harder line against guerrillas, said on Thursday that he would no longer accept Venezuela as a guarantor at the talks because of its alleged support for rebel activities.

“President Duque keeps adding unilateral conditions in order not to give continuity to the peace process,” the ELN said in a statement. “In his statements he demands that to continue we must cease our insurgent activity unilaterally and ahead of time.”

His demands are not part of what was agreed by the two sides before the start of the Havana-based talks, the rebels added.

“We are facing rulers who plan to shatter the peace process,” the statement said, accusing the United States of using Colombia’s government to “launch a bellicose, absurd and fratricidal conflict against Venezuela.”

Colombia’s government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The ELN, considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, has been at war with the Colombian government since 1964. The larger FARC, a former rebel group, are now a political party after signing a peace deal with the government last year.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Luis Jaime Acosta, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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