Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN), the guerrilla group behind the capture of Luis Manuel Diaz nearly two weeks ago, have released the Liverpool forward’s father, Colombia’s government confirmed. Local media reported that Diaz Sr was in a good state of health, with no signs of mistreatment.
A post from Liverpool on the platform X said: “We are delighted by the news of Luis Diaz’s father’s safe return and we thank all those involved in securing his release.”
Diaz Sr and his wife, Cilenis Marulanda, were seized at gunpoint by the ELN on 28 October in La Guajira province, near their home town of Barrancas close to Colombia’s border with Venezuela. Ms Marulanda was freed by police within hours.
After a major military search, the government said in a statement that it had held peace talks with the ELN and was now celebrating Diaz’s release.
A statement from the Colombian Football Federation said: “We appreciate the national government, the military and the national police, as well as all the institutes and individuals who made possible the freedom of Luis Manuel Diaz, father of our footballer Luis Diaz.”
Diaz had made an emotional appeal for his father’s release after scoring a late equaliser for Liverpool in their 1-1 draw against Luton on Sunday.
The 26-year-old marked the goal by revealing a T-shirt bearing a message in Spanish reading “Freedom for Dad’’ and then made a statement calling for his “prompt release”.
The Colombia international was named in Liverpool’s starting line-up for their Europa League clash against Toulouse on Thursday evening, which kicked off an hour after Diaz’s father’s release was confirmed. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said Diaz was “happy” to play.
The ELN said they would release Diaz as long as they received security guarantees from the Colombian government, and claimed they had informed the Colombian authorities on 2 November of their intention to do so.
On Thursday, local media in Colombia showed Diaz’s father at an airstrip in the city of Valledupar after he descended from a helicopter. Reports said Diaz Sr would undergo a medical examination before being returned to his family.
The kidnapping of Diaz’s father disrupted the Colombian government’s peace talks with the rebel group ELN, which restarted last year in hopes of ending the group’s part in a 60-year conflict, which has killed at least 450,000 people.
The two sides began a six-month ceasefire in August.
The government’s negotiating delegation at the peace talks said in a statement that they welcomed the release of Diaz Sr and that he was safe and sound, but that the kidnapping “should never have happened”.
“The current process with the ELN has advanced like no other until today. Regardless, our delegation considers that the kidnapping of Luis Manuel Diaz has placed our dialogue in a critical situation and because of it, the time has come to take decisions to eliminate kidnapping,” the statement said.
The statement added that all people being held by the ELN must be liberated, though it did not give a figure for the number of remaining hostages. Guerrilla groups in Colombia have historically used kidnapping as a fundraising and pressure tactic.
The ELN said a week ago it would free Diaz but his liberation was delayed amid a back-and-forth between the group and the government. The rebels said military operations were impeding liberation efforts, which the army denied.
The Colombia Football Federation’s statement continued: “Football as a sporting discipline symbolises talent, dedication, teamwork and the intrinsic values of human beings.
“In Colombia it must continue to be a benchmark for entertainment, healthy competition, unity and joy. Therefore, we insist on the need to maintain this activity, as well as those who are involved in it, in the sporting and administrative part and their families, outside of any scenario other than sports.
“Behind a ball, the dreams and illusions of boys and girls, young people, women, men and adult soccer players, their loved ones and an entire country roll. Football is passion in peace. Let no one ever think of attacking that reality again.”
Includes reporting from Reuters