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Tuesday, October 13, 1998 Published at 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK


World: Americas

Colombia rebels agree peace conventions

The civil war has displaced hundreds of thousands of Colombians

Colombia's second largest rebel group has agreed to a timetable for a series of peace conventions next year.

The National Liberation Army (ELN) reached the accord in two days of talks at a secret location with negotiators trying to find an end to the country's long-running civil war.

In a concession to the rebels, the government allowed two imprisoned ELN leaders, Francisco Galan and Felipe Torres, out of jail to attend the talks.

The two sides decided to hold five peace conventions next year - the first in February 1999, the last in October.

Each meeting will be attended by ELN leaders and by independent representatives from Colombian society, including business, religious and community leaders.

However, the country's largest guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia will not be taking part. President Pastrana is pursuing a separate strrand of talks with the organisation.

The conventions are designed to establish a framework for proper peace talks.

Each session will discuss a separate issue, ranging from human rights to economic development and crime.

ELN has yet to declare ceasefire

The latest peace talks were held amid tight security and almost total secrecy somewhere in the north-eastern Antioquia province, an ELN stronghold.

Contacts started in July in Germany, when the ELN met independent representatives from Colombian society.

Since then, the guerrillas have released a number of prominent hostages and have pledged their willingness to achieve peace.

But our correspondent says progress will be difficult because the ELN, which has been fighting the Colombian state for more than 30 years, is still carrying out guerrilla activities and has yet to declare a ceasefire.





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