Colombia recognizes dissident ELN faction as independent organization

BOGOTA (Reuters) -A front of Colombian leftist rebel group the National Liberation Army (ELN) has broken ranks with the group's central command, becoming the guerrillas' first dissident faction, as Colombia's government on Wednesday recognized it as an independent organization.

The Southern Community Front, which operates in Colombia's Narino province, announced its split with the wider ELN on Tuesday. It was confirmed almost immediately by Pablo Beltran, head of the rebel group's peace delegation.

Analysts say the splintering of the ELN could cause obstacles for the total peace policy pushed by the government of leftist President Gustavo Petro, which wants to end the group's part in Colombia's six decades of internal conflict which have killed at least 450,000 people.

"Consequently, (the government) will treat this group from Narino as a distinct and independent organization from the national organization, with which it holds political negotiations," the government's peace commissioner's office said in a statement.

On Monday, the ELN said it would end its suspension on kidnappings, blaming the government for a delay in establishing a multi-donor fund meant to finance the peace process.

Although six rounds of talks have taken place since the end of 2022, crisis hit negotiations after the government advanced meetings with the faction in Narino province, which sought to negotiate the group's handing over weapons and reintegrating into society.

The peace commissioner's office said it would work to make sure the ELN does not abandon its pledge to give up kidnappings.

Negotiations between previous governments and the ELN - considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the European Union - broke down due to the group's radical positions, diffuse chain of command, and dissent in its ranks.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime AcostaWriting by Oliver Griffin; editing by Diane Craft)