The ELN released two kidnapped television reporters Friday, the day that a Spanish journalist clarified she had also been kidnapped exactly a week ago on Saturday.
Until Spanish journalist Salud Hernandez spoke about her 6-day disappearance, it was unclear whether the journalist was embedded with the guerrillas or held hostage.
But Hernandez was clear as day about her disappearance.
According to the Spanish journalist, she was kidnapped and held hostage after ELN rebels detained her in Catatumbo, an ELN-controlled area in the north of Colombia.
“From the beginning I was held against my will. I insisted [to the rebels] that, no matter how they called it, I was being kidnapped,” Hernandez told reporters after her release in Ocaña, miles from where she was last seen.
The two reporters from television network RCN, who were released hours after Hernandez, were kidnapped when moving into the area where Hernandez had gone missing to report on the disappearance of their Spanish colleague.
The Catatumbo region where the kidnappings took place is one of the worst affected by Colombia’s armed conflict, home to several illegal armed groups and in some cases too dangerous even for the security forces.
The release is a major relief for Colombian and foreign journalists and reporters, who have generally been able to report on the ongoing armed conflict without too much hostility from the parties involved in the half-a-century war.
While violence and threats targeting journalists from local radio stations or newspapers are common, the kidnapping of foreign journalists is hardly common.
Rebel group FARC held a French journalist captive for weeks in 2012, but reporter Romeo Langlois was embedded with the army at the time of a guerrilla attack and, in accordance with international humanitarian law, released to humanitarian organization the Red Cross as quickly as possible.
In a letter given to Hernandez, the ELN claimed the Spanish journalist and columnist was not kidnapped, but “retained in a registration and control operation” that was part of “routine security operations to neutralize enemy infiltration in the region.”
The kidnapping of the three journalists has aggravated the already serious lack of trust between the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and the ELN, who both announced formal talks weeks ago.
However, these talks were almost immediately suspended by Santos who demanded the release of ELN hostages.
The ELN has rejected the condition, claiming this was never agreed to by the parties while negotiating the formalization of peace talks.