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Three Journalists Released After They Were Kidnapped by Colombian Rebels

Meanwhile, ongoing peace talks between rebels and the Colombian government have been repeatedly hampered by entrenched hostilities and kidnappings.
May 28, 2016, 5:55pm
Salud Hernandez (al centro) posa con el clérigo Ramon Torrado y la funcionaria Marta Bustamante al Norte de Santander. Imagen cortesía de la Defensoría del Pueblo/Handout vía Reuters.

Colombian rebels have released three journalists after they were kidnapped six days ago in a remote and conflict-ridden part of the country.

Salud Hernández-Mora — a Spanish-Colombian journalist with El Mundo — was abducted last Saturday in the northeastern region of Catatumbo close to the Venezuelan border by members of the guerilla group, the National Liberation Army (or ELN). Hernández-Mora was working on a story about farmers who grow coca for cocaine production in an area known for trafficking drugs into Venezuela.

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El Tiempo reported that a man approached Hernández-Mora while she was eating lunch and said he knew the whereabouts of her cellphone and camera which were stolen the day before. According to their report, she followed the man on motorcycle taxi and then disappeared.

She was released early Friday afternoon and she called into radio and television stations to confirm her release.

Related: Colombia Says Narco-Guerrilla Group ELN Has Kidnapped Three Journalists

Diego D'Pablos, a reporter, and his cameraman Carlos Melo, from Colombian TV station RCN, went missing on Monday while covering the disappearance of Hernández-Mora. Rebels released D'Pablos and Melo just hours after Hernandez-Mora.

In a statement, RCN said it lost contact with D'Pablos and Melo on Monday after they set out for El Tarra — a village which is home to two guerrilla groups and drug cartels, and also is known for having poor cell phone reception.

Diego Velosa, a reporter for another Colombian Radio and TV station told RCN that he and three other journalists were detained by armed rebels, who took them along a trail and held them captive for six hours. Velosa recalled that his captors identified themselves as members of ELN, accused the journalists of spying on their activities and traveling in the region without permission, and forced them to surrender their equipment. Velosa added that ELN revealed that they were holding the two missing RCN reporters.

"Journalists covering civil conflict, drug trafficking, and crime in this isolated area are fulfilling an essential duty of bringing Colombians news of great national interest, and authorities must ensure they will be able to do it without fear of retribution," Carlos Lauría, senior program coordinator for Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in the Americas, wrote in a statement. "All sides in the Colombian civil conflict must do their utmost to ensure the safety of all media personnel and respect their internationally recognized status as civilians."

Related: Three Missing Journalists May Be in the Hands of Colombian Rebels or Drug Traffickers

The peace talks to end the five-decade long civil war are being held in Havana, Cuba, but negotiations have been repeatedly hampered by ongoing hostilities and kidnappings. ELN recently agreed to hold talks with the government, possibly joining The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) — the country's largest rebel group — who have observed a ceasefire since last year. FARC, ELN, and other marxist rebel groups have been waging a guerrilla war against the Colombian government since 1964, using trafficking and kidnappings' ransom, in part, to fund their war.

According to CPJ, Colombia journalists have often been used as pawns in the ongoing armed conflicts and are targets for kidnapping or aggression. Since 1992, at least 47 journalists have been killed in Columbia. Corruption is the most dangerous beat to cover, and being a broadcast reporter is the most dangerous position.