September 19, 2018 / 11:52 PM / a year ago

Colombia vacates ELN peace negotiator posts until talks resume

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia has relieved the negotiating team at peace talks with ELN rebels of their posts in a planned move, the government said on Wednesday, adding the posts will remain empty until the group meets Bogota’s preconditions to restart talks.

Colombian President Ivan Duque said in his inaugural address last month he would take 30 days to evaluate the talks and had urged the National Liberation Army (ELN) to release 19 hostages before dialogue could resume.

The deadline has passed without a definitive government decision on whether to continue.

The guerrillas have so far freed nine hostages, all members of the security forces or contractors. The remaining ten hostages are civilians.

Duque will name a new negotiating team if the ELN frees the hostages and ceases criminal activities, High Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos told journalists, adding the decision was “merely administrative.”

The negotiators finished their contracts on Aug. 3, just before former President Juan Manuel Santos left office, he said.

“There isn’t any justification to say that the possibilities are closing,” Ceballos said. “It’s simply confirming an administrative decision of the previous government.”

The ELN, considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, has been at war with the Colombian government since 1964.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb, editing by G Crosse

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