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Cuba Country to host Colombia-ELN rebel peace talks

Cuba will host peace talks between the Colombian government and leftist ELN rebels aimed at ending a five-decade conflict after Ecuador bowed out as host, negotiators said Saturday.

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A member of the "Omar Gomez" Western War Front of the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla is photographed in a camp on the banks of the San Juan River in Colombia on November 21, 2017 play

A member of the "Omar Gomez" Western War Front of the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla is photographed in a camp on the banks of the San Juan River in Colombia on November 21, 2017

(AFP/File)

Cuba will host peace talks between the Colombian government and leftist ELN rebels aimed at ending a five-decade conflict after Ecuador bowed out as host, negotiators said Saturday.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is trying to conclude a peace agreement with the country's 1,500-strong last active rebel group, similar to the one signed with the larger FARC guerrillas in November 2016. The FARC has since become a political party.

Five other countries -- Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Norway and Venezuela -- have vouched for the dialogue.

"After jointly examining the options to renew dialogue as soon as possible," Colombian government and ELN negotiators will resume talks "in Havana starting next week," a joint statement read.

"We hope to move forward quickly," added Santos.

On April 18, Ecuador said it was suspending its role as guarantor of the peace talks between Colombia and the National Liberation Army guerrillas, which have been hosted in Quito since early 2017.

Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno told Colombia's RCN television that he wanted to end Ecuador's role following a flareup of violence along their common border.

Moreno's remarks came as Ecuadoran and Colombian troops pressed a hunt along their respective sides of the border for a small band of ex-FARC rebels turned criminals responsible for the kidnapping and murder of a three-man Ecuadoran journalist team.

However, peace talks with the ELN are being held against the backdrop of a more hostile political context in Colombia, after hardline conservatives opposed to peace with the rebels have gained ground in recent legislative elections.

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