In a statement on Thursday, a Colombian delegation that has been negotiating with the ELN in pursuit of a peace deal welcomed the release of Luis Manuel Diaz but said his kidnapping “should never have happened”.
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Local television channels showed Diaz’s father at an airstrip in the city of Valledupar on Thursday after exiting a helicopter. The Liverpool and Colombian national football team striker had implored the kidnappers to release his father, who was taken hostage at gunpoint in northern Colombia on October 31.
Manuel Diaz’s wife, Cilenis Marulanda, was also taken hostage but was rescued several hours later. The Colombian government had pressured the ELN to release Manuel Diaz, whose kidnapping set back efforts to negotiate a lasting peace with the rebel group.
“The current process with the ELN has advanced like no other until today. Regardless, 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 from the government delegation said.
A six-month ceasefire between the government and the ELN had been reached in August as Colombia tries to move away from a military-focused approach to armed groups like the ELN that helped fuel a civil conflict that killed more than 450,000 people over a 60-year period.
“Long live peace and freedom,” Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who has remained committed to his strategy of seeking “total peace”, said in a social media post after the release of Manuel Diaz.
The government’s statement said all remaining hostages held by the ELN must be freed, but it did not offer an estimate of how many people are still being held.
After news of his father’s kidnapping, Luis Diaz received statements of support from fellow footballers and fans around the world.
Colombian authorities had launched a search for Manuel Diaz, and the head of the ELN had acknowledged that his kidnapping was a “mistake”.
In his first appearance for Liverpool since the kidnapping of his father, Diaz scored an equalising goal against Luton in the Premier League and lifted up his shirt to reveal the message “Libertad Para Papa”, or “freedom for papa”.
In a social media post after the match, Diaz pleaded for his father’s release.
“Today the footballer is not speaking to you. Today Lucho Diaz, the son of Luis Manuel Diaz, is speaking to you. Mane, my dad, is a tireless worker, a pillar in the family, and he has been kidnapped,” it read.
“I ask the ELN for the prompt release of my father, and I ask international organizations to work together for his freedom.”