Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The father of Liverpool footballer Luis Díaz has been freed 13 days after being taken hostage in Colombia by the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group.
Luis Manuel Díaz was released by the ELN following an operation carried out by the Colombian military, the UN and the Catholic Church, the government confirmed on Thursday. “We announce with joy the release of Luis Manuel Díaz,” a government peace delegation said. “He was able to return safely to his family and his community.”
The kidnapping put pressure on Colombian president Gustavo Petro, who has pursued peace processes and surrender deals with armed groups and drug-traffickers as part of his “total peace” policy since taking office last year.
A six-month ceasefire between the ELN and the government came into effect in August, as part of peace negotiations that began last year, but a rise in kidnapping incidents reflects the continued activity of armed groups in remote areas.
“The kidnapping of Luis Manuel Díaz placed our dialogue in a critical situation and because of it, the time has come to take decisions to eliminate kidnapping,” the government’s peace delegation said on Thursday.
Díaz was transferred via helicopter from the Serranía de Perijá mountain range near the Venezuelan border, where he had been held captive, to the nearby city of Valledupar on Thursday, according to local media. The ELN on Saturday said the release of Díaz had been complicated by military operations in the area, which the military denied.
Díaz and Cilenis Marulanda, the footballer’s mother, were abducted by armed men on October 28 as they were travelling through the country’s northern La Guajira province. Marulanda was freed hours later, though the player’s father remained captive amid a growing international outcry and calls for his release.
After scoring a goal against Luton in the English Premier League on Saturday, the younger Díaz revealed a T-shirt saying “libertad para papa” — “freedom for dad” — an image that went viral worldwide. The Colombian international signed for Liverpool in 2022 from Portuguese club Porto.
In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Liverpool FC said: “We are delighted by the news of the safe return of Luis Diaz’s father and we thank all those involved in securing his release.”
The ELN was formed in 1964 by Marxist priests and rebels who espoused a revolutionary ideology that drove guerrilla movements across Latin America during the cold war.
Like the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) — which demobilised in 2017 — the ELN was one of the groups that waged war against the Colombian state in a conflict that has killed at least 450,000 people and displaced 7mn.
Both the ELN and Farc, alongside other armed groups, relied on the drug trade, illegal mining and kidnapping for ransom to fund their war efforts.
Kidnapping, which had seen a steady decline in Colombia since Farc’s demobilisation, is on the rise again. According to defence ministry figures, 218 people were kidnapped between January and August this year, up 91 per cent on the same period in 2022.
“The ELN has made very clear they have no intention of ceasing their economic activities which includes kidnapping” as peace talks continue, said Elizabeth Dickinson, senior analyst for Colombia at the International Crisis Group.
Regarding the peace talks, she added: “It is now the time that both sides [the government and the ELN] need to decide what are the rules of the game.”
Read the full article here