BOGOTA – The National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group released a kidnapped Colombian soldier on Monday, a day before the start of peace talks with the government, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
The soldier, identified as Fredy Moreno Mahecha, was abducted on Jan. 24.
Moreno was handed over to a delegation that included Red Cross, Ombudsman’s Office and Catholic Church representatives in a rural area in Arauca, a province on the border with Venezuela, the ICRC said in a statement.
The ELN’s Eastern War Front claimed responsibility for kidnapping Moreno on Jan. 31.
Mourad Bekkari, the head of the ICRC office in the town of Saravena, participated in the effort to win Moreno’s release and said the international humanitarian organization was available to assist in these kinds of operations.
ICRC Colombia delegation chief Christoph Harnisch, for his part, said these types of “gestures reinforce the trust between the Colombian government and the ELN ahead of the imminent start of the public phase of the talks in Quito.”
“We believe the existing humanitarian problems should be emphasized in the discussions,” Harnisch said.
On Feb. 2, the ELN released former Congressman Odin Sanchez Montes de Oca, who was held in captivity for 10 months.
The former lawmaker had been in the hands of the ELN since he volunteered to take the place of his brother, Patrocinio, a former governor of the northwestern province of Choco who was grabbed by the guerrillas in 2013.
Sanchez’s release was one of the conditions set by the government for the peace negotiations with the ELN set to start on Tuesday.
ELN chief negotiator Pablo Beltran said in a recent interview that he did not know how many people the guerrilla group was holding, but that the number of captives “can be counted on the fingers of one hand.”