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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 December 2005, 01:52 GMT
Colombia plans new rebel meeting
By Stephen Gibbs
BBC News, Havana

A bus attacked by the ELN in 2001
The ELN has been responsible for attacks on civilian buses
The Colombian government and leaders of its second largest guerrilla group have moved closer to full peace talks.

Government negotiators and representatives of the National Liberation Army, or ELN, met for five days in the Cuban capital, Havana.

They pledged to meet again in Cuba at the end of January with the aim of agreeing an agenda for more formal peace talks.

The ELN has waged a four-decade long war against the Colombian government.

Colombia's High Commissioner for Peace, Luis Carlos Restrepo, and the ELN's second-in-command, Antonio Garcia, seemed positive as they sat down together in a Havana hotel to sign a joint declaration.

Formed by intellectuals in 1965
Inspired by Cuban Revolution
About 4,000 members
Mainly carries out kidnappings and attacks on infrastructure
Listed by US and Europe as terror group
In the document both sides welcomed what they described as the frank and cordial nature of their five-day discussions.

They committed themselves to further talks in January.

The priority of their next meeting will be to finalise an agenda for full peace talks.

Nothing more concrete than that was agreed but this would appear the closest the two sides have got to ending a war which has lasted 41 years.

Militarily weak

The timing might give some cause for optimism.

Colombia's President Uribe vowed to end the country's Marxist insurgency when he was elected in 2002.

He is expected to run for re-election in 2006.

Earlier this year he brokered a peace deal with Colombia's main right-wing paramilitary group.

For its part, the ELN is viewed by many analysts as currently weak militarily and, therefore, more inclined to negotiate.

A deal between the ELN and the government might put pressure on Colombia's largest guerrilla army, the FARC, which has so far refused to take part in any peace talks.

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