Colombian military chiefs say they have laid the ground for the release of Liverpool striker Luis Diaz’s dad ‘in the next few hours’ after withdrawing armed troops from nine-day hunt
- Luis Manuel Diaz was kidnapped by left-wing group ELN in Barrancas last week
Luis Diaz’s father could be released ‘in the next for hours’ after Colombian military chiefs confirmed they were withdrawing armed troops who have spent over a week searching for him.
The Liverpool striker’s father Luis Manuel Diaz had been kidnapped by left-wing terror group the National Liberation Army (ELN) in the town of Barrancas nine days ago.
Since then around 200 soldiers have been searching the Perija Mountains, which form the border with neighbouring Venezuela, amid suspicions he was being held there by the militants.
On Sunday the Colombian forward made an emotional plea for the ELN to release his father and unveiled a shirt pleading ‘Freedom for dad’ after scoring a late equaliser for Liverpool against Luton Town, while he was also embraced by his manager Jurgen Klopp.
On Monday military officials confirmed they had laid the ground for Mr Manuel Diaz’s release by ordering soldiers to return to Barrancas, amid fears from the militants for their own safety in the presence of soldiers.
Luis Diaz unveils a shirt that says ‘freedom for dad’ after scoring a late equaliser for Liverpool against Luton Town on Sunday night
The Liverpool striker is embraced by his manager Jurgen Klopp after their teams game against Luton Town on Sunday
Luis Manuel Diaz was kidnapped by left-wing militants in the Colombian town of Barrancas on October 28
Friends and family of Mr Manuel Diaz staged a demonstration in Barrancas asking for his release on Sunday
The footballer’s father had been seized at gunpoint in his hometown, along with his mother Cilenis Marulanda. She was rescued hours later, while his father remains in the hands of the ELN.
Colombia’s Army confirmed it was withdrawing troops on Monday, saying: ‘All the guarantees and conditions are being offered so Mr Diaz can recover his freedom in the next few hours.’
READ MORE HERE: Emotional moment Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp embraces Luis Diaz on the pitch after star unveiled message calling for kidnappers to release his father
Colonel Giovanni Montanez said: ‘The troops that are taking part in the search operation for Luis Manuel Diaz are being ordered to carry out a repositioning to give guarantees for the handover of this hostage.’
Colonel Giovanni Cristancho, who heads a police elite unit taking part in the search operation, added: ‘Men who were on the ground and leading searches and conducting roadblocks have been removed from the area.
‘They are now in Barrancas and we can state that the area is free of any type of offensive operation.’
Reports earlier had pointed to a strategic withdrawal taking place but there had not been any official confirmation.
The withdrawal operation came after the guerrilla group holding Luis Manuel Diaz hostage had pledged to ‘keep their word’ and free him after his footballer son issued an emotional appeal to the criminals – but accused the government of complicating things.
The Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group said it understood the anguish of the Liverpool star’s family in its first official statement since promising the world nearly four days ago it had started the process of securing his dad’s release.
But it went on to say the government response triggered by the October 28 kidnap, when it swamped areas like the Perija Mountains near Barrancas in Luis’s home region of La Guajira with elite police and soldiers, made the release difficult.
The group insisted it needed ‘security guarantees’ before freeing the 58-year-old.
The statement appeared to confirm speculation the hostage-takers are concerned for their own safety if they hand Mr Diaz over.
Diaz’s father, Luis Manuel Diaz and his mother, Cilenis Marulanda, were seized at gunpoint in their hometown of Barrancas near the Venezuelan border on October 28
The Liverpool star’s mother (above in 2019, left centre) was rescued after the pair were snatched off the streets of Colombia last week, but his father’s whereabouts are still unknown
Diaz lifted up his Liverpool shirt yesterday, in his first game since the kidnapping, to release a message that said in Spanish: ‘Freedom for Papa’
Police put up a reward of 200million Colombian pesos (£50,000) following Mr Manuel Diaz’s kidnapping
ELN chiefs released their new pledge after the Liverpool star broke his silence about his dad’s kidnap with an emotional social media message begging the group to release him promptly.
The 26-year-old said, referring to his father by his nickname of Mane as he is better known: ‘This is not Luis Diaz the player speaking. Today it is the son of Luis Manuel Diaz speaking.
‘Mane, my dad, is a hard-working family man, the pillar of our family and he’s been kidnapped.
‘I ask the ELN for the prompt release of my father, and I ask international organisations to work together for his freedom
‘Every second, every minute, our anguish grows. My mother, my brothers and I are desperate, distressed and without words to describe what we are feeling. This suffering will only end when we have him back home.
READ MORE HERE: Head of terror group behind kidnap of Luis Diaz’s father concedes they made a ‘MISTAKE’ not releasing Liverpool star’s relative – as military operation escalates to 150 people in Colombia
‘I beg you to release him immediately, respecting his integrity and ending this painful wait as soon as possible.
‘In the name of love and compassion, we ask you to reconsider your actions and allow us to have him back.
‘I thank Colombians and the international community for the support received, thank you for so many demonstrations of affection and solidarity in this difficult time that many families in my country find themselves experiencing.’
He released his statement after coming off the bench to score a last-gasp equaliser for Liverpool against Luton.
The ELN, which says a regional unit called the Northern War Front kidnapped Luis Manuel, responded with a statement signed by the unit’s leader Commander Jose Manuel Martinez Quiroz.
It said: ‘On November 2, we informed the country of the decision to release Mr. Luis Manuel Díaz, father of the player Luis Díaz. From that date, we began the process to accomplish this as soon as possible. We are making efforts to avoid incidents with government forces.
‘The area is still militarised, they are carrying out flyovers, disembarking troops, broadcasting and offering rewards as part of an intense search operation.
‘This situation is not allowing for the execution of the release plan quickly and safely, where Mr. Luis Manuel Díaz is not at risk. If operations continue in the area, they will delay the release and increase the risks.
‘We understand the anguish of the Díaz Marulanda family, to whom we say that we will keep our word to release him unilaterally, as soon as we have security guarantees for the development of the liberation operation.’
A large poster calling for the release of Luis Diaz’s father was put up outside their family home in Barrancas
Rebels from Colombian insurgency group National Liberation Army (ELN) patrol near the Baudo river in Choco province on October 26
The National Liberation Army – abbreviated as ELN in Spanish – is a leftist anti-government group made up of over 2,000 fighters and militants based in the Colombian countryside
The group is considered as a holdout in the country’s peace process and deemed a terrorist organisation by Colombia and several other governments including the US and EU
Kidnapping in Colombia has become increasingly common, with more than 38,000 people kidnapped in Colombia over recent years
Luis Diaz’s mum Cilenis Marulanda was also abducted near the couple’s home alongside her husband but freed hours later as the police and army hunt for their captors kicked in.
Yesterday morning local time she fought back tears as she urged the kidnappers to release her partner.
Cilenis Marulanda made her impassioned plea as she took part in a second march to demand Luis Manuel Diaz’s freedom.
She said, with her eyes closed before breaking down and being hugged by a relative beside her: ‘I want them to release him now, that the people who are keeping him free him now back to me, because we want to have him back home.’
Cilenis wore a T-shirt with her husband’s face printed on it under the message: ‘Your family is waiting for you.’
The abduction of civilians has been a traditional practice of the ELN.
READ MORE HERE: Inside the ELN terror group based in the Colombian countryside who kidnapped the Liverpool striker Luis Diaz’s parents as he begs for his father’s release
In January 2018 the rebel group kidnapped an oil engineer in the north of Colombian. He was named at the time as 41-year-old Andres Riano Ravelo.
Two Dutch journalists were kidnapped by the group in June 2017, the Colombian military said.
The ELN said in June when it agreed a ceasefire with the government that it would continue with the twin crimes of kidnapping and extortion ‘where necessary,’ describing them as being essential to the group’s ‘finances.’
A negotiator for the group said at the time: ‘We don’t talk about kidnap, we talk about retentions. If they are not necessary they won’t happen.’
The Marxist-Leninist ELN, or National Liberation Army in English, was founded in 1964 by radical Catholics inspired by Cuba’s communist revolution.
It was behind a car bombing in January 2019 at a police academy in Bogota which killed 21 people and injured 68 others, making it one of the deadliest attacks ever in the Colombian capital.
Peace talks have been going on between the ELN and the Colombian government since March 2020 when the guerrilla group declared its unilateral ceasefire.
Last Tuesday afternoon relatives, friends and well-wishers took to the streets of Barrancas, in the border region of La Guajira, for the first march to demand the liberation of Luis Manuel or Mane as he is better known in his home town.
The march began at 5pm local time and finished at the home of Luis Diaz’s parents.
Many children took part in the march holding up white balloons and wearing Colombian tops with Luis Diaz’s name and shirt number on it.
A local armed with a loudspeaker asked the crowd of protesters: ‘What does Barrancas demand for Mane Diaz?’ and received the rapturous reply: ‘Libertad, Libertad, Libertad’ – ‘Freedom, Freedom, Freedom’ in English.
The Liverpool striker urged people to join the march shortly before it started.
His message, featuring a promotional poster, said: ‘Take your candle to ignite the light of hope.’
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