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Second Rebel Group Is Ready To Talk Peace With Colombia's Government

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Colombia is expected to sign a peace treaty this year with an armed group. The guerrilla group FARC has fought the government for half a century. Now a second rebel group, the National Liberation Army, says it's ready to talk peace. Here's reporter John Otis.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: From Caracas in neighboring Venezuela, a top commander of Colombia's National Liberation Army announced that the group is willing to negotiate with the government.

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ANTONIO GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "If the changes that we see come about," said rebel leader Antonio Garcia, "that will allow us to go from war to peace." It's been a long time coming. Like the better-known FARC guerillas, the National Liberation Army, also known as the ELN, has been fighting to install a Marxist government since 1964. But an army offensive has reduced the ELN to fewer than one thousand fighters. In recent years, they have mostly avoided direct combat in favor of bombing oil pipelines and kidnapping civilians for ransom. Still, it's been impossible to eliminate the ELN. Amid this stalemate, the Colombian government has pressed ELN leaders to negotiate, although President Juan Manuel Santos says talks won't begin until remaining hostages are freed.

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PRES JUAN MANUEL SANTOS: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "The talks will start in neighboring Ecuador," said Santos, "as soon as humanitarian issues, including kidnapping are resolved." Should both the FARC and the ELN disarm, Santos predicted great things for a peaceful Colombia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANTOS: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: He said, "we could concentrate on making Colombia the modern, free and inclusive country that it should be." For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Bogota, Colombia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.