Posted: Jun 10, 2014 10:58 AM
Updated: Jun 10, 2014 10:58 AM
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) The government of President Juan Manuel Santos and Colombia's No. 2 rebel group announced Tuesday that they have initiated a peace process.
In a statement published on the Colombian presidency's website Tuesday, they said exploratory talks with the National Liberation Army will began in January with an agenda that will include "victims and the participation of society. The other topics remain to be agreed upon."
The publication of the brief six-point statement comes five days before presidential elections in which Santos is seeking a second term against Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, the favored candidate of hard-line former President Alvaro Uribe.
Santos' government has been engaged in peace talks with the far larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia since November 2012, and the fate of those talks hangs in the balance Sunday's election.
Zuluaga has not guaranteed that he would continue the negotiations and he, like Uribe, has been highly critical of what he calls the "impunity" that Santos would allegedly offer rebel leaders as part of a pact. Santos denies any such offer has been made.
In a debate on Monday night, Santos said to Zuluaga: "You want to continue this war. I want to end it."
The statement on talks with the smaller group, known by its Spanish initials as the ELN, makes clear that the talks remain in an exploratory phase.
It does not mention a timeline for formal talks or say when they might begin, or even where. It thanks Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Venezuela and Norway for "accompanying and helping to guarantee this process."
Both rebel armies have been battling Colombian government for a half-century. The ELN has about 2,000 combatants, compared to some 8,000 for the larger group.
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report from Lima, Peru.