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Red Cross to search for journalists missing in Colombia

May 26, 2016

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday it will help search for three journalists missing in a restive region of Colombia.

It is acting at the request of the Colombian government, Red Cross spokesman Edgar Alfonso said.

A reporter and a cameraman for Colombian TV network RCN were apparently detained Monday by gunmen in the town of El Tarra while covering the disappearance of a Spanish-Colombian journalist, Salud Hernandez-Mora, a prominent correspondent for Spanish newspaper El Mundo who went missing over the weekend.

Hernandez-Mora was last seen in El Tarra, in the Catatumbo region of northeast Colombia.

The RCN journalists and others were attacked and detained by a group of assailants who stole their cameras, cell phones and other equipment, breaking some of it in the process, the Foundation for Press Freedom, a Colombian watchdog group, has said.

Alfonso said the journalists are listed as missing as it is not known for sure that they are being held by an armed group.

No group has contacted the ICRC to say it is holding them, he said.

Three other journalists also attacked and detained Monday later resurfaced.

Communications in the region — where guerrilla groups and drug traffickers dominate — are difficult and details of the case remain scarce.

President Juan Manuel Santos said Wednesday he had information to the effect that Hernandez-Mora was with the National Liberation Army, a leftist rebel group, of her own volition and doing reporting work.

The ELN is the second-largest guerrilla group fighting in Colombia’s half-century conflict. It has a strong presence in Catatumbo.

The rebel group said in March it would hold peace talks with the government.

But they have yet to get off the ground because the rebels refuse to give up ransom kidnappings — long their main source of funding.

The government accuses the ELN of kidnapping at least seven people so far this year.

The Colombian conflict, which started as a peasant uprising in the 1960s, has drawn in various armed groups and gangs over the decades, leaving 260,000 people dead and 45,000 missing.

The government says it is close to signing a peace deal with the largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.