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Last Colombia rebels eye ceasefire before Pope visit

© Ecuador's Foreign Ministry/AFP | Pablo Beltran, nom de guerre of the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas peace negotiator, speaks as the second round of peace talks with the Colombian government begins

QUITO (AFP) - 

Colombia's last rebel force said Friday it is making progress towards a possible ceasefire, which the government hopes will definitively end half a century of civil conflict.

"We have now begun discussions about a ceasefire," said Pablo Beltran, chief negotiator for the National Liberation Army (ELN).

He said such a move "as well as halting offensive operations between the sides would bring humanitarian aid to the population" in conflict zones.

He spoke at the end of the second round of peace talks with the government in the Ecuadoran capital Quito.

Colombia's biggest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) with 7,000 members, finished disarming last week under a peace accord.

President Juan Manuel Santos says he wants to seal a "complete peace" by striking a similar deal with the ELN.

Despite the current peace talks, the 1,500-member ELN has been blamed for ongoing confrontations with state forces and has claimed responsibility for recent kidnappings.

Beltran said on Caracol Radio that the group could be ready to commit to stop kidnappings -- one of the government's conditions for a ceasefire.

He said he hoped a ceasefire would be implemented before Pope Francis visits Colombia in early September.

The FARC and ELN formed in 1964 to fight for land rights and protection for poor rural communities.

The conflict drew in leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups and state forces.

It has left 260,000 people confirmed dead, more than 60,000 missing and seven million displaced.

Officials say remnants of right-wing paramilitary groups are still fighting the ELN for control of the drug trade.

© 2017 AFP