Colombia says it will hold formal peace talks with the country's second-largest rebel group.

The government has held exploratory talks in Ecuador with the National Liberation Army, or ELN, for more than a year. 

The start of formal peace talks with the rebel group raises expectations for a definitive end to a half-century of political violence in the Andean nation.

Colombian and ELN officials made the announcement Wednesday morning at a press conference in Caracas. 

The government began formal talks in Havana three years ago with the largest Colombian rebel group, the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. 

The smaller ELN has an estimated fighting force of around 1,500 and relies on extortion and kidnapping to fund its insurgency. 

Colombia's long-running civil war has killed an estimated 200,000 people.