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Narco-Guerrilla Group Suspected of Kidnapping Spanish Journalist in Colombia

Salud Hernández-Mora disappeared while working on a story about drug trafficking in a remote region. Witnesses say they saw her arguing with an unidentified man in the town of El Tarra, before taking a motorcycle to an unknown destination.

by Joe Parkin Daniels
May 23 2016, 7:55pm

Imagen vía YouTube

A desperate search is underway for a Spanish journalist who went missing in a violent part of Colombia at the weekend, amid reports that she has probably been kidnapped by a guerrilla group that is known to have helped fund its fight against the government with drug trafficking.

Salud Hernández-Mora, who has worked for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo from Colombia since 1999, was investigating the drug trade in the remote northeastern region of Catatumbo at the time of her disappearance.

Witnesses quoted in the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo said they saw Hernández-Mora arguing with an unidentified man in the town of El Tarra, before taking a motorcycle to an unknown destination.

The government has deployed a special task force of police officers, soldiers, and members of an anti-kidnapping and anti-extortion squad, to look for the journalist. President Juan Manuel Santos tweeted last night that the search is "a priority" and ordered "dedication" on the part of the forces looking for her.

The area, close to the Venezuelan border, is known as a bastion of the country's two biggest leftist guerrilla groups — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which is on the point of signing a peace deal with the government, as well as the smaller National Liberation Army, or ELN.

Colombia's Defense Ministry said in a statement on Monday morning that it had yet to confirm whether Hernández-Mora has been kidnapped. Meanwhile El Mundo reported that the Spanish national court has opened an investigation into their correspondent's disappearance.

Colombian media however, are reporting that the ELN, are most likely responsible for Hernández-Mora's disappearance. Europa Press also quoted Spain's foreign minister as saying "everything points" to a kidnapping, and that it "could be the ELN."

The left-wing rebel group announced in March this year that it intended to enter into formal peace talks with the government. Since then the guerillas have been criticized for refusing to release hostages at the same time as the group has increased attacks against oil infrastructure.

Analysts say this could be an effort to prove they are still a force to be reckoned with ahead of actual negotiations. The Colombian government has said it will not sit down with the ELN until the group has released all its captives.

The government has been in peace talks with the much larger FARC since November 2012, with a deal expected at some point this year. Both sets of negotiations seek to end over half a century of war which has left at least 220,000 dead and over six million displaced.

According to Colombia's Foundation for Press Freedom, 232 journalists were targeted through threats or acts of violence in 2015. This marks a 40 percent increase on the year before. Attacks against journalists reached a peak in 2009.

Global watchdog Reporters Without Borders claims Colombia is the second most dangerous nation for journalists in the Western Hemisphere, after Mexico. "The violence, in which local officials are often complicit, usually goes unpunished," the group's website says.

Related: This Former Colombian Child Soldier Was Forced to Kill Eight of His Friends

Follow Joe Parkin Daniels on Twitter: @joeparkdan

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