Colombia’s second-largest left-wing guerrilla group has freed a civilian hostage held for more than six months, said President Juan Manuel Santos on Wednesday.
The National Liberation Army, or ELN, released Ramon Jose Cabrales, the president said on Twitter.
“I celebrate that Ramon Jose Cabrales is now free and can reunite with his family,” Santos said.
The senior adviser to the town of Ocaña in the Norte de Santander province, Cabrales was captured by the guerrillas in September.
A commission of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in conjunction with the Catholic Church had mediated in the release, said Norte de Santander Government SecretaryDjebrail Hadad said.
Cabrales, 40, was released in a nearby municipality of San Calixto in that department sector and that his wife had been commissioned to receive him.
He described his release as “awakening from a nightmare.”
“It’s very sad, kidnapping is one of the worst crimes that can be committed and I hope that it will no longer exist in this country, Colombians do not deserve this type of crime,” said Cabrales
His release is said to have been a government condition for the start of peace talks with the 50-year old Marxist-inspired rebels.
The 2,000-strong ELN has been conducting exploratory talks with the Colombian government, but Santos has repeatedly said formal negotiations would not begin until Cabrales and a soldier hostage were freed.
The soldier, Jair de Jesus Villar, was freed on Sunday after being held for six weeks.
The release of the two hostages is part of the process of preparing the ground for the rebels’ engagement in official talks with Colombia’s government.
The administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and the leadership of the ELN announced the holding formal peace talks in June 2014, five days before Santos’ successful bid for reelection, but have stalled in the preliminary phase since then.
The Santos administration began peace talks with the larger FARC rebel group in late 2012 and are currently in the final stages of reaching an agreement to end a 52-year conflict.
The administration has made peace talks with leftist ELN and FARC rebels one of his priorities after taking office in 2010.