Alleged members of Colombia’s last-standing guerrilla group ELN kidnapped three off-duty soldiers in the northeast of the country, the National Army said Wednesday.
The three officials were kidnapped while traveling by car and unarmed in Arauca, a province that is largely controlled by the ELN and considered a “red zone” for members of the security forces.
The kidnapping took place while the soldiers were traveling between the towns of Fortul and Tame, both located in guerrilla heartland.
It is uncertain if the soldiers had permission to enter what would be considered enemy territory.
Newspaper El Tiempo quoted the National Army as saying that the soldiers were intercepted by two men with knives that forced the soldiers to get off the bus they were traveling in and taken to an unknown destination.
Once the situation was known, [anti-kidnapping unit] Gaula and the regional authorities of the Arauca province immediately activated the search protocols for the release of our three soldiers.
The alleged kidnapping took place just days after the inauguration of President Ivan Duque, who said he would “revise” whether to continue peace talks with the 54-year-old rebel group.
According to El Tiempo, three policemen, one soldier and two civilians were kidnapped in ELN territory in the western Choco province last week. The victims were working at a reintegration camp of the FARC, the former guerrilla group that became a political party last year after decades of war.
Also in this case the authorities blamed the ELN, which has taken responsibility for the kidnapping and asked authorities a temporary suspension of military and paramilitary activity that would allow the safe return of the hostages.
Colombia’s guerrilla groups have often taken what they consider “prisoners of war.” In the case of the ELN, these hostages are generally returned to humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross.