Just days before peace talks with the national government, Colombia’s last-standing rebel group, the ELN, said Tuesday it was holding a soldier captured on January 24.
The ELN confirmed detaining the soldier, “when he was carrying out espionage activities between Saravena and La Esmeralda,” two villages in the ELN-controlled Arauca province.
The guerrillas promised to surrender the soldiers to humanitarian authorities as soon as possible, a requirement imposed by international humanitarian law in the case of the capture of an enemy combatant.
“We hold the government and the armed forces responsible for any impediment that hinders the release of this soldier,” said the ELN in a press release.
Why the soldier was alone in the middle of rebel territory was not disclosed. According to his family, he was waiting to go on leave and visit his family in Bogota.
The incident takes place just days before the expected release of Congressman Odin Sanchez, whose captivity was an impediment for the beginning of peace talks with the Marxist guerrilla group.
Congressmen widely condemned the detainment of the soldier just when the government and the 52-year-old guerrilla group had come to an agreement to negotiate an end to 52 years of violence.
What concerns me is that continues to happen in the country. If they really want to negotiate they should release all soldiers and all hostages.
House of Representative President Miguel Angel Pinto
The ELN has been kidnapping both civilians and soldiers for decades and has refused to ban the controversial practice ahead of peace talks with the government that are set to be held in the Ecuadorean capital Quito.