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Colombian guerilla group says it will release soccer star Luis Díaz’s father ‘as soon as possible’

By Ilse Borrero, CNN

Barrancas, Colombia (CNN) — A delegate for the National Liberation Army (ELN), a Colombian rebel group, said on Thursday that they have Liverpool FC star Luis Díaz’s father captive and will release him “as soon as possible.”

Luis Manuel Díaz and his wife, Cilenis Marulanda, were kidnapped by armed men on motorcycles at a gas station in Barrancas, the family’s hometown, on Saturday.

Marulanda was later rescued, but Díaz Sr. is still missing, with a major police and military search operation ongoing.

In a video published on X, formerly Twitter, by Colombian journalist Santiago Ángel, ELN delegate Juan Carlos Cuéllar acknowledged that the guerrilla group was holding Díaz Sr. captive.

“We demand that the ELN immediately release Mr. Luis Manuel Díaz, and we remind them that it is their entire responsibility to guarantee his life and integrity,” read a statement released on Thursday by the Colombian government’s delegation at the peace table with the guerrilla group.

“We remind the ELN that kidnapping is a criminal practice that violates International Humanitarian Law, and that it is their duty in the development of the current peace process not only to stop this practice, but also to eliminate it forever,” the communication signed by Otty Patiño, head of the Government’s negotiating team, said.

Gaby Díaz, Luis Díaz’s brother, told CNN the family has not given official statements to the press following instructions from the authorities, but they will call a press conference at a later time.

Barrancas, Díaz’s hometown located in northern Colombia, has never been so guarded.

Ever since last Saturday, when news of the kidnapping of the Colombian national team idol’s parents broke out, residents of this town of about 40,000 people have seen dozens of military and police vehicles roaming around.

“This is new for our people, seeing helicopters landing, taking off (…) the truth is that for us it is new and sad at the same time because this has always been a kind land,” Cristian Almenares, a resident of Barrancas, told CNN en Español on Thursday.

The largest soccer field in the town, donated by Díaz, currently serves as an improvised heliport for the landing and take-off of official aircraft.

Around it, children and adults gather to witness the movement of more than 230 men from the Police and the Army who are carrying out the search and rescue operation for Díaz Sr.

The director of the Colombian Police, General William René Salamanca, said that in this humble and – until now – quiet town, located in northern Colombia’s La Guajira region, the most prepared men of the local police are gathered: jungle commandos, trained for rescue in inhospitable terrain, the institution’s most prepared intelligence officers and experts.

“We also have the best of the judicial police, analysts, cartographers, men who evaluate any information, forensic photographers, experts in photographs and videos to analyze the scene of the kidnapping and carry out the tracing tasks,” Salamanca added.

Meanwhile, outside the Díaz family house, there is a permanent parade of relatives and close friends who, dressed in white t-shirts with the photo of Díaz Sr. printed on them, come to show their solidarity.

On the façade of the house, and in front, there are signs and posters with his face and messages demanding his release.

The citizens of Barrancas have rejected this kidnapping which, they say, tarnishes the image of their town.

“It’s uncalled for, in the middle of negotiations, the ELN is doing this with this humble family that is trying to progress,” said Guillermo Acuña, a young man from Barranco who claims to have been a student of Díaz Sr.’s in his soccer school.

Acuña refers to a statement published earlier on Thursday by the Colombian government delegation involved in peace talks with the ELN, which accused the group of keeping Díaz’s father in captivity.

Gaby Díaz thanked the media and the citizens of Barrancas for their interest in knowing the fate of his father.

Meanwhile, journalists, cameramen, and photographers from local and foreign media remain on guard outside the Díaz family residence, waiting for some reaction or news of the release of the Liverpool FC star’s father.

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