Switzerland hosts Colombian peace talks

Jailed National Liberation Army (ELN) members Francisco Galan, left, and Felipe Torres, right, arrive for the Geneva peace summit Keystone

Switzerland is hosting peace talks between the Colombian government and the country's second most powerful guerrilla group. The two-day meeting, which started in Geneva on Monday, is designed to prepare for a full peace conference.

This content was published on July 24, 2000 - 10:41

The foreign ministry described Switzerland's role as that of a facilitator. But the Colombian authorities have said they may ask the Swiss to mediate between government envoys and the rebel National Liberation Army (ELN).

A senior foreign ministry official in Berne said Switzerland had won trust on both sides through its moves to ensure the respect of human rights in Colombia.

The aim of the talks is to agree on a plan to create a demilitarised ELN enclave in northern Colombia, where the guerrillas want to host a national peace convention.

Envoys from Norway, Spain and Cuba will also be present in Geneva to lend their weight to any agreement. Colombian religious and civic leaders are scheduled to attend as well.

The talks with the 5,000-member ELN are going ahead without the participation of Colombia's most powerful rebel group, the 15,000-strong Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

The government in Bogota has been holding separate peace negotiations with Farc leaders for the past 19 months.

Among those representing the ELN at the Geneva talks are two guerrilla leaders, Francisco Galan and Felipe Torres, who are currently serving prison terms for sedition, terrorism and kidnapping.

The Colombian government has released them temporarily so they can participate in the negotiations.

This is the second temporary release for Galan and Torres, who were allowed to attend a preliminary meeting with Colombian civic leaders in October 1998. The two returned promptly to prison after those talks, defying predictions that they would flee.

The two have long served as a communication channel between the government and ELN guerrilla chiefs, holed up in the mountains.

Colombia's 35-year civil war is estimated to have claimed the lives of 120,000 people. The United Nations refugee agency estimates that over two million people have been displaced by the fighting.

swissinfo with agencies

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