ELN pledges to keep up Colombia peace talks even if ceasefire ends

Bogota (AFP) –


Colombia's last rebel group, the ELN, promised Friday it would continue negotiating a peace deal with the government even beyond a temporary ceasefire due to end January 9.

A pact with the National Liberation Army guerrillas would close the last chapter of a half-century conflict in the South American nation, following a deal struck in November 2016 with the much larger FARC insurgents.

Talks are scheduled to resume between the ELN and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos in neighboring Ecuador just before the temporary cessation of hostilities is set to expire.

The dialogue "cannot be interrupted by the fact that the ceasefire agreement ends on January 9," the ELN's military commander Nicolas Rodriguez said in an end-of-year message posted on social media.

Both sides have separately said they want the ceasefire to be extended, but an accord has remained out of reach because of mutual accusations of failure to meet commitments.

"The ELN will not give up on peace, and for that it will not step away from the table," Rodriguez said.

The ELN has an estimated 2,000 fighters in its ranks.

Under its peace deal, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has disarmed, demobilized its fighters, and transformed into a political party using their same acronym.

Colombia's long internal conflict created around eight million victims, including those killed, made to disappear and displaced from their homes.