|Nohora Valentina, daughter of the mayor of Fortul town in Arauca, was kidnapped nearly three weeks ago [AFP]|
A 10-year-old Colombian girl, whose abduction nearly three weeks ago shocked the South American country, has been freed.
The girl, Nohora Valentina Munoz, and her mother were kidnapped by unidentified armed men while she was on her way to school on September 29.
Her mother was freed shortly after the abduction. The victim is the daughter of Jorge Munoz, mayor of the Arauca town of Fortul.
Nohora Valentina arrived at her family home in a black 4WD vehicle escorted by soldiers and police. Her father whisked her up in his arms and hugged her tightly.
She thanked the authorities for helping bring her home.
“I am grateful to those who helped with my release. I am very happy to be here with my mom and dad and my friends,” she said outside her home.
“Let’s celebrate the liberation of Nohora Valentina,” Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian president, announced via Twitter on Monday.
Without elaborating, Santos, in his Twitter message, thanked the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for its role in helping secure the girl’s release.
However, it was not clear who was behind her abduction and whether any ransom was paid.
Although immediate suspicion fell on Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fighters, the group said on its website last week that it had nothing to do with it.
The kidnapping took place in a region where security forces clashed with National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas, members of the second largest rebel group in the South American nation.
But a recent statement attributed to ELN fighters in Arauca said the kidnapping was by the FARC – the country’s oldest and biggest anti-government group.
FARC said it issued the public denial “to avoid being manipulated”.
It also said the abduction suggested a psychological warfare effort by military intelligence agencies “in order to influence regional and national opinion” to support the war on armed groups.
Earlier this month the girl’s father issued a plea to the kidnappers while acknowledging there was “no real clarity about who the perpetrators of the kidnapping are and what they want”.
Last month Juan Carlos Pinzon, Colombia’s defence minister, offered a 100m pesos ($52,000) reward for information leading to the girl’s release.
In the first half of this year, 193 people were kidnapped in Colombia – 58 of them by the FARC, 14 by the ELN, and the remainder by smaller guerrilla groups and criminal gangs, according to official figures.