January 21, 2018 / 5:51 PM / 4 months ago

Colombian negotiator returning to Ecuador for talks with ELN rebels

BOGOTA (Reuters) - The Colombian government’s head negotiator at peace talks with the ELN rebel group will return to Ecuador to seek a new ceasefire, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Sunday, after being recalled to Bogota following a surge in guerrilla attacks.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos speaks during the inauguration of a new military unit with over 9,000 members who will battle ELN rebels and other criminal groups in Tumaco, Colombia January 12, 2018. Colombian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

The National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group and the government have been in formal peace talks for nearly a year, but the guerrillas launched a new offensive this month, killing security force members, bombing major oil pipelines and kidnapping an oil contractor after the expiration of a 101-day ceasefire.

In response to the renewed attacks, Santos recalled Gustavo Bell, the head of the government’s team at the Quito talks, to discuss the future of the negotiations.

“Gustavo Bell will travel to Quito to explore the possibility of a new ceasefire that will allow a continuation of peace negotiations with the ELN,” Santos said on Twitter.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called on the two sides to return to the talks during a visit to Colombia this month.

The ELN is considered hardline in its ideology and was not known for compromise during past attempts at peace.

Inspired by the Cuban revolution and the Liberation Theology beliefs of the Catholic priests who founded it in 1964, the 2,000-strong ELN has sought an end to the war before, holding talks in Cuba and Venezuela between 2002 and 2007.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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