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by Mick the Ram
Twelve days after being grabbed at a petrol station by gunmen in the outskirts of Barrancas, in the northern Columbian province of La Guajira, Luis Manuel Díaz has been handed over to United Nations and Catholic Church officials, by members of the National Liberation Army (ELN).
The father of Colombia and Liverpool footballer Luis Díaz had been held since 28 October by left-wing guerrillas and concern was growing for his safety, the longer he remained captive.
Confirmation of his release reached his son, who was in the French city of Toulouse for a UEFA Europa League fixture and was naturally overjoyed at the news.
Awaiting emotional reunion
It is understood that Díaz Senior was in good spirits after arriving in the the city of Valledupar, having travelled by military helicopter. He will be given a thorough medical examination to ensure he has suffered no physical injuries, despite no initial signs of mistreatment.
His mental state will unquestionably have been affected, but once given the all-clear he is expected to be reunited immediately with his family, which is bound to be a very emotional reunion and the first stage of the process of recovery.
Celebrations in home town
In his local neighbourhood where there had been marches in support and demands for his release, there were tearful scenes, with family members taking to their cars to drive through the streets in celebration.
Many were wearing Liverpool team shirts bearing the number 23 and Luis Díaz’s name.
Player selected following news of release
The player has not started a game for his club side whilst his father has been missing, but he did come off the substitute’s bench at the weekend to score an emotional stoppage time equaliser, before lifting his shirt to reveal an under-shirt with the words in Spanish “Freedom for Papa”.
Ahead of the game in Toulouse, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp reported that his player was “really happy” and the entire club had been lifted by the news of his father’s safe return. “Timing wise it could not be better”, he said, before proceeding to name Díaz in the starting eleven for the vital game, confirming that he was in a great frame of mind to play.
Delight the theme of statements
Liverpool Football Club released a statement on X (formerly Twitter) saying: “We are delighted by the news of Luis Díaz’s father’s safe return and we thank all those involved in securing his release”.
President Gustavo Petro reacted also on X, with the message: “Long live Freedom and Peace.”
Luis Alfonso Díaz, a cousin of the footballer’s father, spoke of “so many days of sadness” before being really “emotional” to learn that he had been freed. “We feel a great satisfaction and we are glad that it’s come to an end”, he added.
Federation thanks authorities
In a statement issued by the Colombian Football Federation, there were thanks given to the national government, the military forces and the national police, as well as all the institutions and officials that made the release of Luis Manuel Díaz possible.
They wrote: “Football as a sporting discipline symbolises talent, dedication, teamwork and the intrinsic values of human beings and in Colombia it must continue to be a benchmark for entertainment, healthy competition, unity and joy.”
The message ended with the line: “Football is passion in peace. Let no one ever think of attacking that reality again.”
ELN remain active in area
Police have not made any comment with regards to pursuing the kidnappers. The ELN is Colombia’s main remaining active guerrilla group and has been fighting the state since 1964 with an estimated 2,500 members.
Its most prominent activity takes place in the border region with Venezuela, which is exactly where Luis Manuel Díaz and his wife live. They probably saw his capture as a major coup, but it seems that the weight of support and hostility behind it to their group, persuaded them that it possibly was doing their cause more harm than good and relented.