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It has been confirmed that the father of Liverpool footballer Luis Díaz was kidnapped by left-wing rebels of the National Liberation Army (ELN), according to a statement made by the Columbian government.
Luis Manuel Díaz was seized at gunpoint along with his wife on Saturday 28 October. The kidnappers left Luis’ mother, Cilenis Marulanda, behind in a car as the police closed in, but managed to escape with his father.
Initially it was believed to be the work of a criminal gang, but on 2 November a delegation formed of government officials, who are currently engaged in peace talks with the rebel group, confirmed that it had come into possession of “official knowledge” that the kidnapping was the responsibility of “a unit belonging to the ELN”.
Snatched at filling station
The couple were seized by the gunmen after they had stopped off at a petrol station in their home town of Barrancas, in the northern province of La Guajira, an area where several guerrilla groups and armed gangs operate.
Hundreds of police and soldiers have been deployed to search for him, armed with specially trained sniffer dogs with experience of seeking out people in remote jungle settings.
The search is concentrating on the Serranía del Perijá, a mountainous area of dense forest, across the Colombia-Venezuela border. There is a constant presence of elite police units who are using helicopters and planes equipped with heat-seeking cameras, flying over the almost impenetrable forest.
Trailed by bikes before being seized
CCTV footage showed their vehicle being followed by motorbikes during the afternoon of the 28th October. These were believed to be the same bikes that were discovered abandoned, along with a car that was thought to have been used to complete the snatch. So far authorities have been unable to pinpoint Luis Manuel Díaz’s whereabouts.
There has also been a leaflet drop with a photo of Mr Díaz and the offer of a 200m-peso reward, the equivalent of $50,000 or £40,000, for any credible information on his whereabouts. Several individuals are thought to have already been identified as possible having some involvement, but at this point the police were not releasing those names.
Support for “brother”
The current teammates of Luiz Diaz at Liverpool showed their support by holding his shirt high after scoring in their latest Premier League fixture, and manager Jürgen Klopp declared that the victory had been won “for our brother”.
March by town residents
The kidnapping has caused outrage in Colombia, where the player who plays regularly for the national team, is extremely popular. Hundreds of residents of Barrancas held a candle-lit march through the streets shouting “freedom” and dressed in white T-shirts emblazoned with his photo.
Demand for release after break in agreement
A government statement presented by Otty Patiño, who had been heavily involved in negotiations with the ELN prior to the kidnapping, demanded the “immediate release of Luis Manuel Díaz”.
He continued to say: “We remind the ELN that kidnappings are criminal acts which violate international humanitarian law and that it is their duty as part of the current peace process to not only stop engaging in kidnappings, but also to forever stamp them out.”
Earlier this year, the two sides re-agreed on a bilateral six-month ceasefire which came into effect on 3 August.
Main guerrilla group in country
The ELN is Colombia’s main remaining active guerrilla group. It has been fighting the state since 1964 and has an estimated 2,500 members. It is most active in the border region with Venezuela where the couple live.
Mick the Ram