Colombia’s second-largest armed guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), will enter peace negotiations with the Colombian government, according to representatives from the country’s High Commission for Peace.

ELN and Colombian Government
ELN and Colombian Government representatives announce the start of formal peace talks (Photo courtesy Alto Comisionado de Paz de Colombia)

The announcement came Wednesday afternoon during a press conference in the Casa Amarilla in Caracas hosted by representatives of the government and the ELN.

Both sides detailed multi-point frameworks for upcoming dialogues that will deal with issues like construction of peace, democracy in the post-conflict and participation of Colombian civil society.

“The objective is to put an end to the armed conflict, eradicate political violence, center on the treatment of victims and advance toward a national reconciliation with active societal participation and a stable, enduring peace,” said Colombian government chief peace delegate Frank Pearl.

“Society will require fair and balanced information regarding the process, so we will be fostering participatory dialogue,” said ELN chief delegate Antonio García. “Recommendations from civil society will be given particular relevance.”

Both groups stressed that the dialogues would occur in an environment of mutual respect.

Following the description of the agenda, Pearl and García signed a joint agreement initiating the peace process and shook hands.

The ELN and Colombian government have been quietly exploring the possibility of formal negotiations since January 2014 in meetings held throughout Latin America.

Ecuador, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, Cuba and Norway will accompany the talks, which will be held in Ecuador.

President Juan Manuel Santos addressed the nation following the announcement of dialogues.

“After intense discussions, today we have begun conversations of peace with the ELN,” he said.

“We have confronted the ELN on the battlefield … at they have been part of the armed conflict, but with the step we take today, we recognize that this is the moment to search for peace.”

He emphasized, however, that the government has “clear red lines” for conversations with the guerrilla group that he warned would not be overstepped by “even a millimeter.”

The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), of which many of the accompanying nations are members, also welcomed the announcement Wednesday.

“The start of conversations between the Colombian government and the ELN is the piece that was missing in the peace process already underway in Havana with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC),” said the international organization in a statement Wednesday.

ELN representatives shared news all morning over a newly created ELN-Paz (ELN-Peace) Twitter account, saying “the ELN has the will and the disposition to build peace with all.” A website with a similar domain is currently under construction.

Colombia’s government and the FARC have been in peace talks in Havana for nearly four years. A March 23 deadline for a final accord came and went without much fanfare, but both sides are still optimistic that a deal is forthcoming.

If the FARC talks are successful, they would end more than 50 years of civil conflict in Colombia. The ELN, however, has been rebelling against the Colombian government for just as long, and peace without involving the country’s second guerrilla army would be only partial.

Particularly in recent months, ELN troops have made shows of force, including an attack on a military barracks in Arauca and a national armed strike in February.

Read the full peace agenda here