Colombia will enter into formal peace talks with the National Liberation Army, the country’s second-biggest leftist guerrilla group, the government said Wednesday.
Representatives from both sides made the announcement in neighboring Venezuela, where the groundwork for discussions were negotiated.
The National Liberation Army, or ELN by its Spanish initials, will be the second rebel group with which the Colombian government is negotiating a truce.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, speaking later at a news conference in Bogota, said a framework agreement for negotiations has been reached.
“Just like we have engaged the ELN in the battlefield, we also believe that it can and should play a role in creating peace,” Santos said.
Since 2012, the government has been in peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Those talks have resulted in agreements on key points, but the negotiations remain ongoing.
The talks with the FARC have been controversial, with critics arguing that the process has provided rebels with time to strengthen. Others say that negotiations with the rebels — who have been at war with the government for decades and are responsible for bombings and kidnappings — are repugnant.
The government and the FARC had hoped to sign a final peace agreement this month, but the deadline has been pushed back. According to the President’s office, negotiators for both parties say they “are in the final stretch.”
The ELN, a smaller but formidable rebel group, was not involved in the talks between the government and the FARC.