Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla army, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, disclosed Wednesday the list of peace delegates who will carry out the negotiations with the Colombian government in Quito, Ecuador.
Among the delegates, ELN leader Israel Ramirez Pineda, or Pablo Beltran, was appointed chief negotiator. Five women were appointed out of 19 delegates in total.
On Tuesday, the ELN yielded to the government's demand to release former lawmaker Odin Sanchez within the next 48 hours, with the mediation of the Catholic Church. Sanchez had been held prisoner for six months.
When the government's chief negotiator Juan Camilo Restrepo said Monday that the ELN had to release the congressperson before Thursday as a condition to start the peace talks, the guerrilla replied that the demand “jeopardized” the peace process.
The peace talks will formally start Thursday at 5 p.m., local time, in the Capilla del Hombre, an art museum dedicated to Ecuadorean painter and sculptor, Oswaldo Guayasamin.
The dialogue comes after the landmark peace agreement with the larger rebel army, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, was narrowly rejected by half a percentage point in the Oct. 2 plebiscite following nearly four years of talks in Havana, Cuba.
The first round of negotiations with the ELN will last 45 days, with a total of 22 rounds expected.
Key Challenges for Colombia’s Peace Process
The first of the six points to be addressed will focus on the participation of civil society in the peace-building process, before moving to the next points: democracy for peace, transformation for peace, victims, ending the conflict, and implementation of the agreements.
The launch of formal peace talks comes after more than two years of exploratory negotiations wrapped up in March with a consensus between the ELN and government on a roadmap for official dialogue.
The ELN was inspired by the Cuban Revolution and founded in 1964, the same year the FARC-EP was consolidated. The group is smaller and less well known than the FARC-EP, but still the country’s second-largest rebel army with between 2,000 and 3,000 active members.
Colombia’s more than half-century-long civil war has claimed the lives of some 260,000 people and uprooted nearly 7 million more.
While the future of the historic peace deal with the FARC-EP, heralded as bringing an end to the war, remains uncertain after the “No” vote in the Oct. 2 plebiscite, many analysts have argued that an end of hostilities with the ELN is also key to building stable and lasting peace in the country.