The Guerilla group holding Luis Diaz‘s dad hostage has pledged to ‘keep their word’ and free him after the footballer issued an emotional appeal to the criminals following his stoppage-time equaliser against Luton on Sunday.
The left-wing ELN said it understood the anguish of his family in its first official statement since promising the world nearly four days ago it had started the process of securing Luis Manuel Diaz’s release.
But it went on to accuse the government of complicating things with the response triggered by the kidnap nine days ago, when it swamped areas like the Perija Mountains near Barrancas in Luis’s home region of La Guajira with elite police and soldiers.
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.
The Guerilla group holding Luis Diaz’s father have vowed to ‘keep their word’ by freeing him
Diaz came off the bench to salvage a 1-1 draw for Liverpool in stoppage time against Luton
The Liverpool forward displayed a shirt after scoring which begged for the release of his father
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.
‘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.’
The ELN, which says a regional unit called the Northern War Front kidnapped Luis Manuel from his home town of Barrancas last Saturday afternoon, 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.
Diaz’s (left) father Luis Manuel (right) is still to be released by left-wing rebel group ELN – but the head of the guerrilla group is reported to have said they made a ‘mistake’ holding the father
‘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.’
Earlier in the day, Luis Diaz had come on as a substitute to score a 95th minute equaliser for his side against Luton.
He lifted up his Liverpool shirt afterwards, in his first game since the kidnapping, to release a message that said in Spanish: ‘Freedom for Papa.’
His 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.
On Sunday 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.’
Respected Colombia media outlet Semana has claimed the kidnap was five months in the planning.
ELN members had put Luis Manuel Diaz under surveillance to study his routine and work out the times he left home and returned, the places he visited and the friends he frequented, it reported.
Diaz’s mother (centre) led a community march demanding her husband’s release last Tuesday
Hundreds of members of the local community joined forces dressed in white holding balloons
They decided to snatch the footballer’s father last Saturday because police were busy preparing for regional elections which took place the following day, Semana said.
The men who abducted Luis Manuel and his wife followed the couple as they left their home in the working-class neighbourhood of Lleras and struck near a petrol station in the centre of town as they parked their car on their way to visit a friend.
Two men on motorbikes threatened them with a gun and one of them got into Luis Manuel’s vehicle to take a route they had ‘planned previously’ to avoid a rapid police response, Semana said.
The reports appeared to expose as a sham the ELN’s apology on Saturday for Luis Diaz’s father’s kidnap by the Northern War Front when it said taking him hostage had been a ‘mistake.’
ELN commander Antonio Garcia wrote on the group’s Telegram, referring to Luis Diaz by his nickname of Lucho and admitting the Northern War Front had his father: ‘The retention of Luis Diaz’s father by the Northern War Front was an error.
‘Lucho is a symbol of Colombia – that is how we in the ELN feel about him.’
The reports also added weight to the words of critics who have cast doubt on the group’s promise to free him as soon as possible.
On Thursday, Colombian journalist Salud Hernandez-Mora pointed the finger at an ELN member she said used the alias Mateo, claiming he could be behind the abduction.
She warned, making it clear the group would demand a huge amount of money to release Luis Manuel: ‘The modus operandi of the kidnap of Lucho Diaz is identical to other kidnaps this criminal gang has carried out. And they only free people in exchange for millions.’
Several Colombian newspapers have claimed Mateo is the man holding the football trainer hostage with foot soldiers under the orders of a female guerrilla fighter known only by her alias of Patricia said to have orchestrated the kidnap.
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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp embraced Diaz before he came on as a substitute on Sunday
150 military personnel are on the ground in Barrancas to speed up the release of Diaz’s father
A reward of up to 200 million Colombian pesos, around £40,000, has been offered by the authorities for information.
Colombian police say Luis Diaz’s dad is still in the country, despite earlier speculation he could have been smuggled across the border in Colombia.
Police and soldiers are continuing to search areas including the Perija Mountains on Colombia’s border with Venezuela. Sniffer dogs are also involved in the operation.
The abduction of civilians has been a traditional practice of the ELN.
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.
According to Klopp, the Colombian was eager to return to the Liverpool squad against Luton
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
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 protestors: ‘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.’