Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia ELN: Rebels release two kidnapped soldiers

A handout photo released by Colombian Defensoria del Pueblo shows two Colombian professional soldiers Kleider Antonio Rodriguez (L) and Andres Felipe Perez posing after being released by the ELN guerrillas in Arauca, Colombia, 16 November 2015 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Antonio Rodriguez (left) and Andres Felipe Perez were visibly relieved to have been released

Colombia's second largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), has released two soldiers it kidnapped three weeks ago.

They were seized on 26 October during a rebel ambush in which 11 soldiers and one policeman were killed.

The rebels turned them over to a delegation of the Red Cross and the Catholic Church in Arauca province.

The ELN and the government have been holding "exploratory talks" with a view to entering into peace talks.

At the time of the attack the rebels said that the attack did "not contradict" its wish for peace.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption They were met by a delegation from Colombia's Ombudsman's office, the International Red Cross and the Catholic Church

In a statement, the rebels said they were forced to respond to "intense counter-guerrilla operations".

After the release of the soldiers, the ELN published another statement on its Twitter account saying it had "kept its word and handed over the captured soldiers safe and sound".

Following the attack in October, President Juan Manuel Santos ordered the security forces to step up their attacks on the ELN.

ELN

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Some ELN members have demobilised, but an estimated 2,000 are still fighting
  • Founded in 1964 as a Marxist guerrilla group to fight Colombia's unequal distribution of land and riches
  • Estimated to have some 2,000 active fighters
  • Strongholds in the provinces of Arauca, Narino and Norte de Santander
  • Finances itself through extortion, drug trafficking and kidnappings for ransom

The president has in the past said it wants the rebels to give up kidnapping people for good before it is willing to consider more formal peace talks.

Meanwhile, peace talks between government negotiators and members of Colombia's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), are continuing apace in the Cuban capital Havana.

President Juan Manuel Santos and the Farc have agreed on a deadline of 23 March 2016 to sign a final agreement.

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