New peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN), the nation's largest surviving rebel group, have begun in neighboring Venezuela to end the conflict's almost 60-year history, Al Jazeera reported.

The push for the discussions came from Gustavo Petro, Colombia's first-ever left-wing president and a former member of the M-19 guerrilla movement. The negotiations were reopened on Monday, Nov. 21, after being suspended in 2019.

Earlier this year, representatives of ELN and Petro’s administration met in Venezuela, which restored diplomatic relations with Colombia after three years.

The delegates said they had gathered to restart a dialogue “with a full political and ethical will, as demanded by the people of rural and urban territories that suffer from violence and exclusion, and other sectors of society”.

Diplomats from Venezuela, Cuba, and Norway will assist in the first round of negotiations, which will last 20 days. Chilean and Spanish representatives will also be present.

Colombia has suffered more than half a century of armed conflict between various groups of left-wing rebels, right-wing paramilitaries, drug traffickers, and the government.

Students, union leaders, and priests founded the ELN in 1964 as a leftist ideological movement after the Cuban revolution.

The Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, were disbanded in 2016, leaving the ELN as the largest remaining rebel group. It has since expanded its operations in previously FARC-controlled areas.

FARC reached a peace agreement under former president Juan Manuel Santos, abandoning their weapons and establishing a political party.

After a car bomb attack in Bogota in 2019 that left 22 dead, former conservative President Ivan Duque canceled the peace agreement with the ELN.

After winning the elections this year, Petro reached out to the ELN as part of his "total peace" policy.

The ELN delegation spent four years in Cuba after the previous government barred them from returning to Colombia.

Colombian Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez has warned that the talks do not imply a "suspension in operations" against the ELN.

ELN leader Israel Ramírez Pineda said the group aims to make “fundamental changes”, as demanded by the Colombian people during enormous demonstrations in 2021 and in elections this year by choosing Petro, leaving behind the tradition of conservative and moderate governments.

colombia peace talks
Representation image. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

© 2023 Latin Times. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.