The father of Liverpool soccer player Luis Diaz was set free by National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels in Colombia on Thursday, the authorities reported. The father had been held kidnapped in the country’s north for about two weeks.
The government’s peace negotiations with the ELN, which were resuming last year with the aim of terminating the group’s involvement in Colombia’s 60-year conflict that has claimed at least 450,000 lives, have been hampered by the kidnapping of Luis Manuel Diaz.
The two sides began a six-month ceasefire in August.
Local television channels showed Diaz’s father at an airstrip in the city of Valledupar in Colombia’s Cesar province after he descended from a helicopter, as well as images of family members crying at the news of his release.
Though forward Diaz has remained in the UK and continued to play for Liverpool – scoring a last-ditch equaliser against Luton Town on Sunday – he has publicly expressed his anguish.
He lifted up his shirt to reveal a white undertop with “Freedom For Dad” written in black after scoring on Sunday.
Diaz was named in the Liverpool’s starting lineup later on Thursday as the English team faces France’s Toulouse in the Europa League.
“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.
The government’s negotiating delegation at peace talks with ELN said in a statement it celebrated the liberation and that Diaz was safe and sound, but that the kidnapping “should never have happened.”
“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 said.
All people being held by the ELN must be liberated, the statement added. That figure numbers around 30 people, according to security and government sources.
Guerrilla groups in Colombia have historically used kidnapping as a fundraising and pressure tactic.
Delegates from the Catholic Church also accompanied the liberation efforts.
The ELN said a week ago it would free Diaz, and its top commander said the kidnapping was a mistake, but his liberation was delayed amid a back-and-forth between the group and the government. The rebels said military operations were impeding liberation efforts, which the army denied.
Diaz and his wife Cilenis Marulanda were taken by armed men as they were driving in La Guajira province. Marulanda was freed within hours.
The government is trying to conduct negotiations with various armed groups, but discussions with the ELN are the most advanced.
In September Reuters exclusively reported that Colombian security sources expect that at least 40% of ELN fighters could reject a potential peace deal and remain armed.
The atomized command structure of the ELN has long been a concern for security analysts and critics of the talks, who have warned the group’s most radical units are unlikely to adhere to an accord.