Colombia’s government says the armed rebel group the National Liberation Army, known as ELN, was responsible for the weekend kidnapping of the father of Liverpool and Colombian national football team striker Luis Diaz.
The peace delegation of the government, which is currently in negotiations with ELN, said in a statement on Thursday that it was “officially aware” that the kidnapping had been “perpetrated by a unit that belongs to ELN”.
“We demand that the ELN releases immediately Mr Luis Manuel Diaz and we say as of now that they are entirely responsible to secure his life and integrity,” said Otty Patino, who leads the peace delegation.
Both parents of Liverpool’s Díaz were kidnapped by armed men on motorcycles on Saturday at a petrol station in the small town of Barrancas. The footballer’s mother, Cilenis Marulanda, was rescued within hours by police who set up roadblocks around the town of 40,000 people, which is near Colombia’s border with Venezuela.
Diaz’s father remained missing, which triggered special forces to search for him in a mountain range that straddles both countries and is covered by cloud forest. Police also offered a $48,000 reward for information leading to Diaz’s father.
ELN representative Juan Carlos Cuellar reportedly said the group will free Diaz’s father “as soon as possible” in a video clip shared by the ELN with the Reuters news agency.
The ELN, Colombia’s largest remaining armed rebel group, has long funded its operations with kidnapping, as well as extortion and drug trafficking, according to security sources. A six-month ceasefire between the left-wing rebel group and the government came into force in August.
Diaz is one of the most talented players on Colombia’s national team and currently plays for Liverpool in the English Premier League, which he joined last year in a deal worth $67m.
The 26-year-old striker missed Liverpool’s match against Nottingham Forest on Sunday.
Diaz’s teammates expressed their solidarity with the Colombian by holding up one of his jerseys on the pitch after scoring the team’s first goal in their 3-0 victory.