Colombia’s ELN guerrillas free Liverpool soccer star Luis Diaz’s father

Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas on Thursday freed Liverpool soccer player Luis Diaz’s father after kidnapping him almost 14 days ago, the government said. 

After Luis Manuel Diaz was kidnapped, the government’s peace talks which restarted last year with the ELN rebels got disrupted. The talks were expected to end the group’s part in Colombia’s 60-year conflict, which has killed around 450,000 people. 

Both sides started a six-month ceasefire in August. 

Liverpool star’s father was kidnapped on Oct. 28 in Barrancas, a town where he resides in the northern province of La Guajira. 

Diaz’s father said after arriving home, “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.”  

Diaz who also plays for the Colombian national team is in England and has continued to play for Liverpool. However, he publicly expressed his anguish over his father’s kidnapping by wearing a shirt 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 having a significant effect. 

“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, formerly called Twitter. 

The government’s delegation that was responsible for negotiating peace with ELN said in a statement that it celebrated Diaz’s release but that the kidnapping “should never have happened.” 

The statement said, “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.” 

All people being held by the ELN rebels should be released; the statement added. There are around 30 people held hostages by the group, official sources noted. Delegates from the Catholic Church and the United Nations have been engaged with attempting to secure the release of hostages. 

Guerrilla groups in Colombia have used kidnapping as an option to fundraise and as a pressure tactic. 

The ELN said seven days prior it would free Diaz, and its top commander said the kidnapping was a misstep. His release was postponed as the rebels said military activities were an obstacle, something the military denied. 

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

Diaz and his wife Cilenis Marulanda were kidnapped by armed men on bikes. Though his wife was released within hours due to police operation, he was kept captive. 

Discussions with the ELN rebels are the most progressive of the government’s endeavours to negotiate with many armed groups. 

In September Reuters exclusively revealed that Colombian security sources expect that no less than 40 percent of ELN rebels could dismiss a potential peace deal and stay armed. 

The atomised order structure of the ELN has for some time been a worry for critics and pundits of the discussions, who have cautioned the group’s most radical units are probably not going to stick to an accord. 

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