Colombia’s ELN rebels said Wednesday they will not confirm or deny whether they are holding missing Spanish journalist Salud Hernandez in captivity until they receive their “weekly information” from their fronts.
The high-profile journalist who has been working in Colombia for almost two decades disappeared while reporting a story on the illegal drugs industry last Saturday and is feared to be kidnapped by the Marxist rebels.
The rebels have now responded to the accusations by stating that they will not comment until sensitive weekly information from the fronts which cannot be transmitted by phone has been received.
According to the ELN, the guerrillas “do not communicate with each other through cellphones,” but instead is “on the backs of mules, slow, personalized, by hand, but safe and very serious.”
Salud Hernandez, a journalist with Spain’s El Mundo and local newspapers, disappeared close to the town of El Tarra in the northern province of Norte de Santander on Saturday immediately arousing suspicion that the ELN were involved.
She was not seen or heard from since Saturday, when was spotted arguing with an unidentified man and then hiring a motorcycle to take her to an unknown destination.
President Juan Manuel Santos took to his Twitter account to express the urgent need to find the missing journalist.
“I order priority and dedication from the armed forces in establishing where the journalist Salud Hernandez is,” he said.
Meanwhile, two more journalists from the conservative television network RCN are unaccounted for and now also being searched for according to a report by the President on Tuesday.
The two were part of a group of journalists that had traveled to the volatile Catatumbo region to cover the hunt for Salud Hernandez.
Police Director General Jorge Hernando Nieto announced on Wednesday that the Government of Norte de Santander is offering a reward of $ 100 million ($32,645) to anyone who can provide information to the whereabouts of journalists Salud Hernández-Mora and Diego D’Pablos and cameraman Carlos Melo.
General Alberto Mejia, the army chief, said security forces face a difficult task in a region that is similar in size to Jamaica.
“We’re not talking about a soccer field, we’re talking about one of the most-difficult regions for the armed forces to operate,” Mejia said at a news conference.
Despite the announcement of formalized peace talks between the left-wing rebels and the government in March, the guerrillas have continued with kidnappings.
President Santos has repeatedly stated that talks will not commence until all the hostages are released.
“If the ELN kidnapped Salud Hernandez, Diego de Pablos and Carlos Melo, it must release them as soon as possible,” Pearl wrote on his personal Twitter account.
Colombia has been in peace talks with the bigger rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), since the end of 2012 and aim to negotiate with the ELN in a similar fashion.