Colombia’s second largest rebel group, the ELN, said Sunday it was regretted the recent kidnapping of three journalists in the north of the country, but stressed that the journalists’ “imprudence” triggered the kidnappings.
In a press release published on social media website Twitter, the ELN said to “regret the situation that occurred in the past days with [Spanish] Journalist Salud Hernandez and the other reporters of [television network] RCN.”
— Franz Rodríguez-Gual (@frgualdron2) May 30, 2016
The guerrilla group’s peace delegation stressed that the kidnappings were never planned or ordered by the group’s leadership, but happened in the midst of a tensions and violence in Catatumbo, a region that has fallen in the hands of numerous illegal armed groups as a consequence of decades-long state abandonment.
According to the ELN, the journalists were released “as soon as the central command was able to verify the journalist and reporters were in the hands of one of our units.”
The guerrillas’ explained that the release of the journalists took some time because of fighting in the region that escalated subsequent to the kidnapping as the army troops moved in trying to rescue the journalists.
“We confirm that we respect the freedom of expression and we do not have any interest in hindering journalistic work,” the ELN delegation said.
The guerrillas cited Hernandez, a Spanish citizen who has been working in Colombia for decades, to stress the El Tiempo journalist and RCN reporters’ hostage-taking was partly the result of the journalists’ “imprudence.”
Following her release, Hernandez stated that “I have always been imprudent. I believe a reporter always has to be imprudent because if not, we wouldn’t obtain 70%” of stories deemed newsworthy.
The Spanish journalist stressed, however, that “this imprudence is relative because for me the Catatumbo [region] also isn’t new.”
The hostage taking of the journalist put tremendous pressure on both the ELN and the government, which has announced peace talks with the group on two occasions, but so far has failed to even set a date for the talks to begin.
Following the announcement of the formal talks, President Juan Manuel Santos demanded the ELN release hostages held captive as a new condition on the talks, which was rejected by the rebels because this was never agreed in the agreement to begin formal talks.
In its latest communique, the ELN instead reiterated its call for a bilateral ceasefire and “mutual humanitarian action” in order to create “a new climate in the country” that would “benefit society and generate favorable conditions that support the peace process.
The government has consistently rejected a bilateral ceasefire, fearing the rebels could take strategic advantage of a reduction in military pressure.
While agreeing to talks, the parties that have been fighting each other for more than half a centuries have a deeply rooted mistrust of each other.
Colombia’s general public has little faith in either the government, the ELN or peace talks between the two.