Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said on Wednesday he was ready to start negotiating peace with the country’s second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), “as soon as possible”.
Santos hailed the rebels’ release this week of a Canadian hostage and said “the government is ready to start a dialogue with the ELN as soon as possible,” in a statement released by his office.
The ELN announced on Tuesday that it would release the 47-year-old, who works for the Braeval Mining Corporation.
He was captured by guerillas in northern Colombia on January 18 along with two Peruvians and three Colombians employed by the Toronto-based mining company.
The South Americans were freed a month later, but the ELN hung on to Wobert, demanding that the company give up its mining rights.
Top ELN commander Nicolas Rodriguez, also known as Gabino, said in comments on the group’s website ahead of the release that it was a “humanitarian act” that he hoped would be seen as a “contribution for peace in Colombia.”
Santos had said last week that Wobert’s release would be a step in the right direction to starting talks between Bogota and the ELN, which has some 2,500 fighters.
Since November, the Santos government has been engaged in talks with the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc. The talks have taken place in Cuba.
Before the negotiations started, the Farc renounced kidnappings and freed its last police and military hostages in April of last year.