Colombian Rebel Group Frees Journalist After 6-Day Captivity

Spanish-language daily El Mundo correspondent Salud Hernández was released on Friday (May 27) after being kidnapped in Colombia for a week. She was freed by the leftist ELN guerrillas, now taking a first step toward peace, reports Fusion.

The journalist was working on a story about kidnapping in the dangerous Catatumbo region, around Colombia’s border with Venezuela. Hernández was held captive for six days, and was released to a commission that includes representatives of Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman and the Catholic Church.

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“I want to thank the Catholic Church and the Ombudsman’s office for helping with my release,” she told El Tiempo TV. “I am in good health.”

Colombia’s government describes the kidnapping as the cause of a major hurdle in peace talks with the terror group, who has held people captive in the past in exchange for money. Earlier this week Colombia’s Minister of Defense informed the rebels that if they did not release Hernandez along with two other Colombian journalists held captive, there would be no more peace talks.

“The ELN has committed a crime,” Minister of Defense Luis Carlos Villegas said on Thursday. “Peace talks will not be held if they deprive these citizens of their liberty.”

Colombia’s government has had a longwinded battle with the oppressive and violent regimes of the ELN and the FARC. Both groups have equally caused mayhem in the country, with the slew of kidnappings of politicians and soldiers done in previous decades for ransom.

Unlike the ELN, however, the FARC agreed to stop holding people hostage in 2012, back when it started peace talks with the government. The masses hope that the recent kidnapping of these journalists spur a change within the ELN, encouraging them to finally stop the kidnappings.

The government has tried to initiate peace talks with the dangerous group (comprised of about 2,000 members), but they have not succeeded due to the group’s added kidnapping sprees.

To express her gratitude, Hernández took to Twitter to give thanks to those who helped her during the difficult time. “My Eternal gratitude to the priest of Catatumbo, to the nuns that do an incredible social job and to the defense of the defenses of the town of Ocana,” she tweeted.

She also thanked fellow reporters for the support they have given her. “Thanks to all the colleagues that demanded them to let us work, and those who understand that being a reporter isn’t synonymous with being irresponsible,” she continued in another tweet.

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“This incident might show the ELN that they will have to give up on kidnappings for talks to advance,” said The Peace Talks Editor at the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo. “[Hernández’s] release is a first step towards peace.”

On Saturday, President Juan Manuel Santos welcomed the release of the three detained. Colombian news outlet Noticias Caracol reported on Santos’ investment plan to aid in the social, economic and security arenas of the region being considered one of the poorest and most troubled in the country.