Colombia's ELN rebels say ready to start formal peace talks

September 28, 2016 4:58 PM EDT

A graffiti, of rebel group Army Liberation National (ELN) is seen at the entrance of the cemetery of El Palo, Cauca, Colombia, February 10, 2016. Picture taken February 10, 2016. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

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BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's Marxist ELN rebels said on Wednesday they were ready to start formal peace talks with the government and resolve issues that have so far stymied the negotiations announced in March.

The ELN's announcement comes two days after Colombia's center-right government and the Marxist FARC rebel group signed a peace deal to end a half-century war that killed a quarter of a million people and once took the Andean country to the brink of collapse.

The leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels and the government had announced peace talks in March, but the negotiations have been delayed by the rebels' continued kidnappings and infrastructure attacks.

On Tuesday, President Juan Manuel Santos called on the ELN, Colombia's second biggest rebel group with some 2,000 in its ranks, to free hostages and start the formal negotiation process. The government said the group was holding at least four hostages.

"We're ready for the public phase to continue what was decided on March 30 and find solutions to difficulties," the ELN tweeted on Wednesday.

Inspired by Cuba's 1959 revolution, the ELN has battled a dozen Colombian governments since it was founded by radical Catholic priests in 1964. The group frequently bombs pipelines and other installations linked to Colombia's oil industry.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta,; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by David Gregorio)

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