Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia ELN rebels say they are holding missing soldier

Picture of Freddy Moreno in uniform Image copyright Colombian Army
Image caption The ELN rebel group says it is holding Freddy Moreno

Colombia's second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), says it is holding a missing soldier.

In a statement, the ELN said it had kidnapped the soldier, Freddy Moreno, on 24 January in the eastern province of Arauca.

It said it was willing to release Mr Moreno ahead of peace talks set for next week.

The talks were previously delayed because of the ELN's failure to release the people it is still holding hostage.

Stumbling block

Formal peace talks had been due to start at the end of October but the Colombian government said they would not go ahead if the ELN did not first free Odin Sanchez, a former Congressman the rebels have held since April 2016.

The rebels in turn demanded that the government pardon two of its members serving time in Colombian jails.

The two sides struck a deal and the two ELN members were released on Saturday, the ELN confirmed.

The two are expected to serve as rebel negotiators at the peace talks which are due to start on 7 February in the Ecuadorean capital, Quito.

The ELN has said it will release Mr Sanchez on Thursday.

Mr Moreno is expect to be released on the same day.

Who are the ELN rebels?

Image copyright Getty Images
  • The guerrilla group was founded in 1964 with the stated aim of fighting Colombia's unequal distribution of land and riches, inspired by the Cuban revolution of 1959
  • Over the decades, the group has attacked large landholders and multinational companies, and repeatedly blown up oil pipelines
  • To finance itself it has resorted to extortion, kidnappings and drug trafficking
  • It has been strongest in rural areas

How significant is Colombia's ELN rebel group?

The government reached a peace agreement with Colombia's largest rebel group, the Farc, last year.

Members of the Farc have been gathering in "transition zones", where they are to demobilise and lay down their weapons under the supervision of United Nations monitors.

The last of the Farc rebels are expected to reach the designation demobilisation areas by Wednesday, government officials said.

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