On Monday evening, the parties announced that negotiations will start on 27 October in Ecuador. Following several years of confidential talks, in March this year the parties announced that they had reached agreement on a six-point agenda for formal negotiations. However, it has not been possible to start the negotiations earlier, because the Government’s condition was that the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – National Liberation Army) should first release hostages. The process of releasing hostages has now begun.

‘The news of the negotiations with the ELN comes at a critical juncture. It is also very encouraging that the parties have, from the outset, agreed to carry out measures to build confidence and generate support for the peace process,’ said Mr Brende.

The negotiations will begin at a time when President Santos has initiated a new national dialogue, after the agreement between the Government and the FARC was rejected by a narrow majority of voters in a referendum. The ELN, like the larger guerrilla movement FARC, has been part of the 52-year armed conflict in Colombia since its outbreak. The conflict has caused widespread humanitarian suffering. Over 200 000 people have been killed, and millions have been forced to flee their homes.

Norway has assisted the parties throughout the confidential phase of talks, and has also been asked, together with Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela, to act as facilitator for the talks in the formal phase that will begin now.