The leader of Colombia's ELN guerrilla group admitted on Saturday that the group made a "mistake" in kidnapping the father of Liverpool footballer Luis Diaz last week, and vowed to work for his release.
“The retention of Luis Diaz's father by the Northern War Front (editor's note, a unit of the group) was a mistake,” wrote Antonio Garcia, commander of the ELN (National Liberation Army), on his Telegram channel.
“Lucho is a symbol of Colombia, that's what we think of him in the ELN,” he added, using the nickname of Diaz, 26, who has made 11 appearances this season with Liverpool and scored three goals.
Luis Manuel Diaz and his wife Cilenis Marulanda, who has since been released, were kidnapped on October 28 from a gas station in Barrancas, the family's hometown, near the border with Venezuela (north-east), by armed men riding motorcycles.
According to the army, more than 250 soldiers are searching “by air and land” for the father of the Colombian international in the neighboring region of Serrania del Perija, where AFP journalists have observed roadblocks.
On Wednesday, ELN (National Liberation Army) peace negotiators acknowledged to their government counterparts that guerrilla members were holding Diaz's father.
In a Telegram message on Saturday, Garcia said the ELN's central command was overseeing efforts to free the footballer's father and had asked its units to cooperate.
“We hope that the operational situation on the ground can be resolved, these are the guidelines that commanders must follow to expedite the release,” he said.
Local media published a statement purporting to come from the Northern War Front, in which rebels said they kidnapped Diaz's father for ransom without realizing it was the soccer star's father. This statement could not be independently verified.
The incident threatened to derail peace negotiations between the rebel group and left-wing President Gustavo Petro, which are taking place under a six-month ceasefire.