BOGOTA – Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said in an interview with EFE on Friday that he trusted the National Liberation Army (ELN) would soon free their last hostage and join public peace talks.
Santos canceled on Thursday his negotiation team’s trip to Quito, Ecuador, thereby delaying peace talks until former delegate Odin Sanchez was liberated by the guerrilla group.
“There was a slip-up the day we were going to begin the public phase because some hostages still had to be released,” he said.
Sanchez was kidnapped by the ELN, Colombia’s second largest armed group after the FARC, some six months ago.
Santos, who is currently hosting the 25th Ibero-American Summit in Cartagena de Indias, said that after Sanchez’s liberation, they would have to wait to see what happens.
“In these cases it is always best to elaborate a new plan. This can take time, but it takes two to dance and any decision made needs to be by mutual agreement,” said Santos.
He said he was not setting deadlines to complete negotiations with the ELN, as he recognized it can be counterproductive.
When he began the public peace process with the FARC four years ago, he told someone that he hoped peace would come in a matter of months and not years.
“That became a problem for me, so now I prefer not to create any time-frame expectations. Of course it would be best for all of us if a deal was struck as soon as possible. But how soon is soon?” he said.
According to Santos, negotiating with the ELN is different than with the FARC.
While the FARC deals involved a very precise team, the ELN talks were to have a leading negotiator, former agriculture minister Juan Camilo Restrepo, who will then select a large amount of people to assist with specific topics.
Regarding the possibility that the FARC negotiations in Cuba, which reopened after the deal was rejected, and the ELN talks in Ecuador could merge into one, Santos said certain aspects could be consolidated, like the matter of transitional justice, which is to be applied once the conflict ends.
“The logical step would be to merge both peace processes into one single process of transitional justice, as we are not going to negotiate two. There are certain aspects that naturally flow together. In other aspects, they remain two different guerrillas with two different formats,” said Santos.