Colombia's government is ready to start peace talks with the smaller of the country's two guerrilla groups, the National Liberation Army, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Wednesday.
Santos had insisted the government would not engage in talks with the rebel group, known as the ELN, until it released a Canadian geologist it kidnapped in January. The ELN handed the hostage over to the International Committee of the Red Cross on Tuesday.
The ELN, which has an estimated 3,000 fighters, has been fighting the government in nearly five decades of bloody conflict. The government is already negotiating peace with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
"The government is ready to make this step too and hopefully we can work out the necessary procedures to start dialogue with the ELN to see if once and for all we can put an end to this conflict with the two groups involved in it," Santos said at the presidential palace.
Both groups are considered terrorist organizations by the United States and European Union.