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By Vivian Sequera

CARACAS (Reuters) – Negotiators from the Colombian government and the guerrilla group National Liberation Army (ELN) began peace talks on Monday, the first major step in President Gustavo Petro’s efforts to end nearly 60 years of war.

Petro, a former member of the M-19 insurgency who took office in August, has vowed to bring “total peace” to Colombia by negotiating with rebels and criminal groups involved in drug trafficking and illegal mining.

“We cannot see each other as enemies, the job we have is reconciliation,” said ELN negotiator Pablo Beltran. “We hope not to fail in these expectations of change.”

The negotiations –which began in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas– will revolve between the guarantor countries Venezuela, Cuba and Norway, according to the Colombian government.

“We are committed to negotiations with an organization that also wants peace,” said the government’s chief negotiator, Otty Patino. “We will arrive at a safe harbor… real peace”.

The delegations had their first meeting on Monday, said Colombia’s High Commissioner for Peace, Danilo Rueda.

Previous attempts at negotiations with the ELN, which has about 2,400 fighters and was founded in 1964 by radical Catholic priests, have not been announced in part because of disagreements within its ranks.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera in Caracas; Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogotá and Mayela Armas in Caracas; Writing by Andrews)

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