Colombia’s defense minister said Sunday that the army rescued 15 fishermen who had been kidnapped by the ELN, the country’s second largest rebel group.
The operation that led to the rescue of the fishermen took place near the municipality of Morales, Bolivar, where the civilians were allegedly first retained and then kidnapped by the guerrillas.
According to the authorities, the ELN had imposed a ban on fishing in the region and kidnapped the fishermen after finding out they had ignored the rebel order.
None of the alleged kidnappers were arrested, according to Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas, who said the guerrillas fled the camp when noticing approaching army units.
Villegas said that the security forces had deployed 200 ground troops and six helicopters in the operation.
“The kidnapping site was surrounded. When the ELN members noticed the arrival of our special forced, the 12 ELN members fled,” claimed Villegas.
Among the 15 rescued were three minors and one 70-year-old man who was taken to hospital for a medical check.
Their initial kidnapping was not reported.
Following the successful release, “the operation pursuing those responsible is maintained in the region,” said Villegas.
“We hope that the ELN soon begins peace negotiations, but for now we will continue pursuing them when they carry out actions like this,” the minister added.
The administration of Juan Manuel Santos and the ELN announced they were holding exploratory peace talks in June 2014, five days before the president successfully sought reelection. Since then, however, talks have gone slowly and no formal phase has been announced.
The ELN, born in 1964, is Colombia’s second largest rebel group, exceeded in size only by the FARC, which has been holding formal peace talks since November 2012.
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