The father of Liverpool footballer Luis Diaz, kidnapped at the end of October in Colombia by the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN), was released on Thursday, according to images broadcast by local media.
Accompanied by a humanitarian mission, Luis Manuel Diaz landed by helicopter at Valledupar airport, in the north of the country. The Colombian Bishops' Conference released a photo showing Mr. Diaz in a wooded area while a woman checks his vital signs. “Long live Freedom and Peace!”, reacted left-wing President Gustavo Petro on social networks.
The ELN, which is leading peace negotiations with the government, kidnapped the Liverpool winger's parents on October 28 from a gas station in Barrancas, the family's hometown, near the border with Venezuela. Armed men riding motorcycles had kidnapped them. The same day, the 26-year-old footballer's mother was released.
This kidnapping jeopardized the peace process begun almost a year ago between the ELN and the government, as well as the six-month bilateral ceasefire in force since August 3.
Mr. Petro estimated last week that this kidnapping had broken the “trust” between the parties. The military commander of the last recognized guerrilla in Colombia, Antonio Garcia, himself admitted on Saturday to having made a “mistake” with this kidnapping.
More than 250 police officers were mobilized by land and air to search for Mr. Diaz. On Sunday, the ELN, however, estimated that this military presence made its “rapid and safe” release difficult. The army withdrew its troops on Monday.
Sunday, Luis Diaz dedicated his goal in added time for the equalizer against Luton (1-1) to his father. Entering the game in the 84th minute with Liverpool trailing 1-0, he equalized with a header before lifting his jersey revealing the message “Libertad para papa” (Freedom for Dad, in Spanish) on the t-shirt he wore. 'he wore underneath.
“I ask the ELN to quickly release my father,” he then wrote on social networks. “Every second, every minute, our anguish grows: my mother, my brothers and I are desperate,” added the star player of the Colombian national team.
Luis Manuel Diaz, known as “Mane”, was the founder and coach of the only football school in Barrancas, a town of some 38,000 inhabitants, where his son showed exceptional skills from an early age.
On Wednesday, dozens of children went to practice with white balloons in his honor. The 26-year-old shone in his country before joining Portuguese club Porto and then English club Liverpool. Last year, he was one of the twenty finalists for the Ballon d'Or and was one of the scorers at the 2021 Copa America.
This is the first time that a Colombian indigenous person has reached the football elite, in a country where 4.4% of the population belongs to an indigenous community. This kidnapping constituted a new setback for President Petro's “total peace” policy, which aims to disarm all illegal groups in the country through dialogue.
On Sunday, the main dissident faction of the former guerrilla Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which rejected the 2016 peace agreement, announced the suspension of its participation in the dialogue with the government that began in October in the Venezuelan border. Despite the disarmament of most of the FARC in 2016, the armed conflict in the country continues after six decades of violence that have claimed some 9.5 million lives.
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