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Colombia ELN guerrillas free kidnapped father of Liverpool soccer star Diaz

Published Nov 09, 2023 11:15AM ET Updated Nov 10, 2023 03:56AM ET
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© Reuters. People attend a candlelight vigil demanding the release of the father of Liverpool F.C.'s forward Luis Diaz after he was kidnapped, in Barrancas, Colombia October 31, 2023. REUTERS/Yelver Florez/File Photo

By Luis Jaime Acosta and Oliver Griffin

BOGOTA (Reuters) -Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas on Thursday freed the father of Liverpool soccer player Luis Diaz, after taking him hostage nearly two weeks ago, the government said.

The kidnapping of Luis Manuel Diaz has disrupted the government's peace talks with the ELN, which restarted last year in the hope of ending the group's part in Colombia's 60-year conflict, which has killed at least 450,000 people.

The two sides began a six-month ceasefire in August.

The elder Luis Diaz was snatched on Oct. 28 in Barrancas, a rural municipality where he lives in the northern province of La Guajira.

"Thank you to all the people of Barrancas, to La Guajira and to Colombia for this great support they have given to my family. Thank you all, much love to you all," the soccer star's father said after arriving at his home.

Player Diaz has remained in England and continued to appear for Liverpool but publicly expressed his anguish over the crime, wearing an undershirt with "Libertad Para Papa" (Freedom For Dad) written on it during Liverpool's Premier League match at Luton Town on Sunday. He scored a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw.

Diaz was in the starting lineup on Thursday for Liverpool's 3-2 Europa League loss at Toulouse in France. He was substituted nine minutes before the end without making a significant impact.

"We are delighted by the news of Luis Diaz's father's safe return and we thank all those involved in securing his release," Liverpool said in a statement on social media platform X.

"CRITICAL SITUATION"

The government's negotiating delegation at peace talks with ELN said in a statement it celebrated Diaz's release but that the kidnapping "should never have happened."

"Our delegation considers that the kidnapping of Luis Manuel Diaz has placed our dialogue in a critical situation and because of it, the time has come to take decisions to eliminate kidnapping," the statement said.

All people being held by the ELN must be freed, the statement added. That figure numbers around 30 people, according to official sources. Delegates from the Catholic Church and the United Nations have been involved in trying to secure the release of hostages.

Guerrilla groups in Colombia have historically used kidnapping as a fundraising and pressure tactic.

The ELN said a week ago it would free Diaz, and its top commander said the kidnapping was a mistake. His release was delayed as the rebels said military operations were an impediment, something the army denied.

"We remain committed to the search for change and peace," the ELN said on Thursday in a message via X.

Diaz was taken by armed men alongside his wife Cilenis Marulanda, who was freed within hours.

Discussions with the ELN are the most advanced of the government's attempts to negotiate with several armed groups.

In September Reuters exclusively reported that Colombian security sources expect that at least 40% of ELN fighters could reject a potential peace deal and remain armed.

The atomized command structure of the ELN has long been a concern for analysts and critics of the talks, who have warned the group's most radical units are unlikely to adhere to an accord.

Colombia ELN guerrillas free kidnapped father of Liverpool soccer star Diaz
 

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