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Colombian guerrilla group kidnapped Liverpool striker Diaz’s parents: Bogota

People walk in front of a sign asking for the release of the father of Liverpool's Colombian forward Luis Diaz in Barrancas.

The Colombian government on Thursday accused the ELN guerrilla group, with which it is seeking to negotiate peace, of kidnapping Liverpool winger Luis Diaz’s parents in their home town last weekend.

Diaz’s mother Cilenis Marulanda was rescued hours after the abduction in Barrancas, but his father Luis Manuel Diaz has been missing ever since.

The crime “was perpetrated by a unit belonging to the ELN,” a government official said on X, formerly Twitter, adding: “we demand the ELN immediately free” the missing man, who local media say is 56 years old.

The ELN and the government of leftist President Gustavo Petro are in the midst of peace negotiations and a six-month ceasefire which entered into force in August.

The parents of Colombia and Liverpool player Diaz were abducted Saturday by armed men on motorcycles at a gas station in their home town of 38,000 people in the northern La Guajira department. 

Marulanda was rescued hours later and a massive search operation was launched for her husband.

Colombian authorities have said there has been no ransom demand.

The ELN, or National Liberation Army, has not claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

“We demand the ELN immediately free Luis Manuel Diaz,” said Thursday’s statement signed by Otty Patino, the head of the government delegation in peace talks with the ELN.

He added it was the ELN’s “responsibility to guarantee his life and integrity.”

Attorney General Francisco Barbosa has said the older Diaz “could be” in Venezuela, without giving further details.

Meteoric rise

Luis Manuel Diaz was an amateur coach at the only football academy in Barrancas, a town near the Venezuelan border, where his son showed promise from a very young age. 

Dissidents of the FARC guerrilla group that disarmed in 2017 are also known to be active in this remote part of Colombia, as are paramilitary fighters and criminal gangs.

Petro, a former urban guerrilla himself, took office last August with the stated goal of achieving “total peace” in a country ravaged by decades of fighting between the security forces, leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and drug gangs.

More than 38,000 people have been kidnapped in Colombia over the years, mainly by groups raising funds with ransom money.

The ELN, Colombia’s last recognized guerrilla group, started as a leftist ideological movement in 1964 before turning to crime – focusing on kidnapping, extortion, violent attacks and drug trafficking.

With some 5,800 combatants, the group is primarily active in the Pacific region and along the 2,200-kilometer (1,370-mile) border with Venezuela.

Official data shows the ELN has a presence in more than 200 municipalities where fighting has displaced communities caught up in the violence.

“We remind the ELN that kidnapping is a criminal practice, in violation of international humanitarian law, and that it is its duty (within the context of) the current peace process not only to stop the practice but also to eliminate it forever,” said Patino.

The elder Diaz is credited with aiding the meteoric rise of the Liverpool and Colombia striker known as Lucho.

Acquaintances have told AFP that he sometimes sold food he cooked himself to pay for his son’s trips to Barranquilla, the city where he had his debut with the football club Junior.

The younger Diaz, who has not spoken publicly about the kidnapping, has played for his country 43 times and arrived at Liverpool last year from Portuguese club Porto.

He has played 11 games with Liverpool and scored three goals, and is the first Indigenous Colombian to make it to world football’s top echelons. 

Colombian police have offered a reward equivalent to about $48,000 for information that leads them to Diaz and his captors.

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