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Colombia rebels free kidnapped Dutch journalists: ELN

June 23, 2017

Colombia’s ELN rebel force said Friday it had released two Dutch journalists it kidnapped in the north of the country four days ago.

The kidnapping was the latest in a series of incidents which officials feared could disrupt peace talks the ELN is holding with the Colombian government.

“The two foreigners captured by the ELN in Catatumbo have been released in perfect condition,” the National Liberation Army (ELN) said on Twitter.

It did not say where they were set free. In the Netherlands, a Dutch foreign ministry spokeswoman told AFP she was not able to confirm the release.

Derk Johannes Bolt, 62, and his cameraman Eugenio Ernest Marie Follender, 58, were kidnapped Monday near the Venezuelan border.

The governor of the surrounding Norte de Santander district, William Villamizar, said Thursday a humanitarian commission was mediating their release.

“The release does not affect the dialogue being carried out with the ELN,” he said.

On Tuesday, the government’s chief negotiator with the guerrillas, Juan Camilo Restrepo, warned the kidnapping complicated negotiations with the ELN that began in February.

Villamizar said the military and the ELN had been asked to reduce their operations in the area “so as not to endanger the lives of the Dutch journalists” in order for them to be released safely.

The journalists work for Spoorloos, a program on Kro-Ncrv TV that helps Dutch people trace their biological relatives around the world.

In May 2016, ELN rebels kidnapped in the same region a Colombian-Spanish journalist and two Colombian TV reporters. They were handed over to intermediaries a few days later.

– FARC disarmament –

In the main thrust of Colombia’s peace drive, the country’s biggest rebel group, the FARC, is scheduled to complete its disarmament by June 27 under a peace deal it signed last year.

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos said the FARC would complete their historic disarmament on Friday. He spoke during an official visit to France.

But UN observers had yet to confirm the formal end to the disarmament process on Friday afternoon.

The Colombian conflict erupted in 1964 when the FARC and the smaller ELN took up arms for rural land rights.

The violence drew in various rebel and paramilitary forces and drug gangs as well as state forces.

The conflict has left at least 260,000 people dead and displaced more than seven million, according to the authorities.

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