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ELN Guerilla Group Colombia

Colombia edges toward peace as dynamics with rebel groups change

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Colombia moves toward peace with rebel groups as President Juan Manuel Santos says he will sign a bilateral cease-fire agreement with the country's last guerrilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN). This comes just days after Colombia's largest and most notorious rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), transitioned into a political party.

ELN Rebel Group Colombia
ELN fighters assemble in Arauca, Colombia. (AP)

On Thursday, 900 members of the FARC voted overwhelmingly to leave behind their past as an armed group and become a leftist political party to counter Colombia's traditional conservatism. The former rebels announced they would change their name to the Alternative Communal Revolutionary Forces, keeping the acronym FARC.

"We do this... in another demonstration of our commitment to peace, democracy and social justice for Colombia," said Rodrigo Londono, the FARC leader better known as Timochenko.

"We do not want to spill another drop of blood for political reasons."
Timochenko, FARC Leader

The Colombian government approved 10 congressional seats for former FARC combatants, meaning FARC candidates could potentially run for elected office next year.

FARC rebels laid down the last of their weapons in May. Last September, Santos and Timochenko signed an historic peace agreement, symbolically using pens made out of recycled bullets. However, many Colombian citizens were outraged at the lack of accountability within the peace accord, narrowly rejecting the deal in a referendum vote, and demanding justice for victims of murder, extortion, and kidnapping at the hands of the FARC. The government and opposition parties went back to the drawing board and revised the agreement, and the final deal was approved by Congress.

Colombia Peace Ceremony
The top commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, Rodrigo Londono, right, shakes hands with Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, left, as Cuba's President Raul Castro, center, looks on after they signed a peace agreement between the government and the FARC in Cartagena, Colombia, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

The FARC peace agreement brought an end to over 50 years of fighting that claimed the lives of more than 220,000 Colombians and displaced nearly six million people. Santos's initiatives to end the tumultuous civil war with the FARC earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016.

The cease-fire agreement with the ELN marks the latest effort by Santos to foster a long-standing peace in Colombia. After signing the agreement on Monday, the ceasefire with the ELN runs from Oct. 1 until Jan. 12, and can be renewed as peace talks continue.

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ELN Guerilla Group Colombia

The monumental changes for Colombia come just ahead of a visit by Pope Francis to Bogota, Colombia.

CNN and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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