Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Thursday admitted that official contacts had been made with the National Liberation Army, or ELN, the country's second-largest guerrilla organization, with an eye on possible peace talks that would be held simultaneously with those currently under way with the FARC rebels in Cuba.
"Some contacts have been made," said Santos in a pretaped interview with Caracol Noticias television to be broadcast Thursday evening.
Santos also said that he hopes that those "conversations will begin soon."
The president, who on Wednesday began the last year of his four-year term in office, did not offer any details about the site of the possible talks or the mechanism that would be followed for conducting them.
Santos did say, however, that a possible official team will not include former Vice President Humberto de la Calle Lombana, the government's chief negotiator in the peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, that have been under way since last November in Havana.
The ELN has expressed an interest in negotiating with the government.
The president has made the release of all hostages the ELN is holding a precondition for any negotiations.
Among those being held by the ELN is Canadian geologist Jernoc Wobert, whom the rebel group abducted six months ago but has promised to release because, it says, the Braewal Mining company, for which he works, has provided "evidence of good will."
The guerrilla group is demanding that the company return four mining titles that were adjudicated to the detriment of several communities in northern Colombia where it operates. EFE