The Colombian government and the country's biggest remaining guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army, say they are hoping to announce a bilateral ceasefire very soon.
After both sides met the Ecuadorean president, Lenin Moreno, in Quito, the government's chief peace negotiator, Juan Camilo Restrepo, said he hoped they could make the announcement to coincide with the end of the third round of peace talks on Friday, Sept. 1.
Both the government and the ELN have said they want to achieve a temporary cessation of hostilities in time for the visit of Pope Francis to Colombia, which begins on Sept. 6. "We want to be up to this visit and take a first step towards peace, " said Restrepo after the meeting at Ecuador's Carondolet Palace.
The head of the guerrillas' delegation, Pablo Beltran, said the challenge was to achieve a ceasefire that included two main elements: an end to offensive operations by both sides and a series of humanitarian actions.
On its website, the ELN says that a ceasefire would bring immediate benefits to the population affected by the conflict in Colombia. But it argues that the suspension of fighting needs to be accompanied by specific humanitarian actions from both sides. In particular, it says the government should take effective, concrete measures to counter “the genocide underway against left-wing and social movement leaders, and to stop the expansion of (right-wing) paramilitary groups.”
President Lenin Moreno said “nothing is more valuable than peace”, and hoped that violence would recede in the neighboring country, so that the ELN can reintegrate into democratic, political life.
Ecuador's foreign minister, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, accompanied the president at the meeting.
Ecuador has been hosting the peace talks between the Colombian government and the ELN since they began their public phase on Feb. 7. Brazil, Cuba, Chile, Venezuela and Norway are also acting as guarantors of the peace process.