Colombian rebels want political offers in talks with government

February 14th, 2009 - 8:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Bogota, Feb 14 (IANS) A senior leader of Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla group has said any dialogue between the armed rebels and the government must include politics, EFE news agency reported Saturday.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) and the much larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are interested in talks with government that “include political offers, in other words, proposals to end the war”, Francisco Galan said in a statement published in the El Espectador newspaper Friday.

“It can’t just be humanitarian,” said Galan, who is preparing a proposal for a way out of Colombia’s decades-long internal conflict.

Galan, until recently a public spokesman for the ELN in an “exploratory” dialogue with the government that ended unsuccessfully, told the newspaper that the initiative for talks was “under construction”.

“The entry of the ELN into the national debate has to begin from the basic agreements pending from the previous talks, which were left in limbo,” he said.

Galan, who had been in jail, was given a conditional release to play a part in the dialogue between the ELN and the administration of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in Cuba.

The talks, held intermittently between late 2005 and mid-2007, ended without any agreement due to several discrepancies, including the immediate demobilisation of the combatants.

The ELN is estimated to have around 4,000 combatants, while the FARC is said to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters in its ranks.

Uribe, whose government receives about $500 million a year in military aid from the US, does not recognise the rebels as belligerents and denies the existence of a conflict, denouncing the guerrillas as “terrorists” and “bandits”.

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