BOGOTA – Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said on Thursday that it is “certain” that the National Liberation Army, or ELN, guerrillas are holding Spanish journalist Salud Hernandez and her Colombian colleagues Diego D’Pablos and Carlos Melo, who disappeared a few days ago in the northeastern region of Catatumbo.
“I can communicate this afternoon that, on the basis of intelligence information gathered ... up until just a few hours ago, it can be confirmed with certainty that the ELN is responsible for the disappearances of the three (journalists),” said Villegas at a Bogota press conference.
The minister emphasized the case of Hernandez, a correspondent for Spain’s El Mundo newspaper and columnist for the Colombian daily El Tiempo, who was last seen on Saturday in El Tarra, a city in the Catatumbo region.
Her last message to her work colleagues at the latter paper said that she would be “incommunicado for several hours in that region carrying out (her) duties as a reporter,” Villegas said.
D’Pablos and Melo disappeared two days later in the same region in Norte de Santander province as they were covering the case of their missing Spanish colleague, who – according to the government – voluntarily met with the ELN to do a story on the rebels.
“In the judgment of the government, more time has passed than is sensible for the return of the three reporters,” said Villegas, who emphasized that “from here on out, the responsibility for the well-being and freedom of these three people rests exclusively in the hands of the ELN.”
The minister emphasized that “the ELN has definitively committed a crime in this case,” noting that President Juan Manuel Santos had “warned” the armed group that the agreed-to peace talks with the government will not be able to get under way the rebels “are holding people whose liberty has been curtailed against their will.”
For the moment, he added, the army and police commanders, Gen. Alberto Mejia and Gen. Jorge Nieto, respectively, “are once again returning to the zone today to continue operations” to search for the reporters.