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Colombia rebels free Spanish journalist

May 28, 2016

The Colombian rebel group ELN freed a prominent Spanish-Colombian journalist Friday after holding her nearly a week in captivity.

The correspondent, Salud Hernandez-Mora, confirmed she was abducted and held by the communist guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and thanked the Catholic Church for facilitating her release.

She said two other journalists believed held by the rebels were set to be released “very soon.”

Hernandez-Mora, who works for Spanish newspaper El Mundo and Colombia’s El Tiempo, went missing Saturday while reporting in a region of northeast Colombia dominated by guerrilla groups and drug traffickers.

Her colleagues Diego D’Pablos and Carlos Melo, of Colombian television channel RCN, were then attacked and detained Monday while covering her disappearance.

Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas blamed the ELN for all three abductions, but the rebels have not claimed them.

Hernandez-Mora was handed over to a delegation from the Catholic Church and was traveling in a church vehicle toward the town of Ocana in the department of Norte de Santander, an editor at El Tiempo, Andres Mompotes, told AFP.

He said she told him she had been treated well in captivity.

In brief comments to television channel Caracol, Hernandez-Mora said she was “doing splendidly.”

“Thank you very much to the Catholic Church, thank you very much to all my colleagues,” said the 59-year-old journalist.

“Everything has happened very quickly. But my return won’t be quick because, as we know, the roads in rural Colombia are a disaster.”

She said the rebels had told her D’Pablos and Melo would be released “between today and tomorrow.”

– Talks hanging in balance –

The three journalists went missing in the remote and restive region of Catatumbo.

Details on what happened to them have been sketchy, in part because communications with the area are difficult.

President Juan Manuel Santos said Hernandez-Mora’s release “fills us with happiness.”

“But at the same time, I want to demand the immediate release of the two RCN journalists who are still in the ELN’s hands,” he added.

The ELN, the country’s second-largest rebel group, after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), recently agreed to begin peace talks with the government.

The government says it is close to signing a peace deal with the FARC. But negotiations with the ELN have been held up by ongoing hostilities and the issue of ransom kidnappings — long the guerrillas’ main source of funding.

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.

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