Father of Luis Díaz speaks for first time after release by Colombia guerillas

BARRIO (The Guardian) – The father of Liverpool footballer Luis Díaz has spoken publicly of how he endured almost two weeks of arduous treks and sleepless nights while held captive by armed guerrillas on the Colombian-Venezuelan border.

Luis Manuel Díaz, 58, said: “It was a lot of horseback riding, really hard, a lot of mountains, a lot of rain, too many insects.” A weak Díaz, who was helped to and from a chair by his family, told journalists in his home town of Barrancas in Colombia: “I couldn’t sleep peacefully, it was very difficult, almost 12 days without sleep.”

He said he was overwhelmed with joy as he was reunited with his family on 9 November after being held hostage by the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group.

Díaz initially thought he had been abducted for ransom but no money was ever paid to in exchange for his freedom, he told journalists. His wife, Cilenis Marulanda, was also kidnapped at gunpoint but was released within hours.

“I still have not been able to understand what was the cause of my kidnapping, [the guerrillas] said that I have no problems with anyone.”

Police suspected that local criminals had abducted Díaz from Barrancas in the northern La Guajira province but government peace negotiations revealed on 2 November that he was in the hands of the leftist rebels.

The ELN was founded by radical priests in 1964 and now has an estimated 2,500 fighters who run the armed group’s extortion and drug-trafficking rackets.

The Colombian police said on Saturday morning that it had arrested four suspects after an operation supported by British intelligence.

Local drug-trafficking mafia Los Primos, [the Cousins], are suspected of capturing Díaz and handing him over to the ELN, the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reports.

Díaz, who runs a football foundation for local children, said he was treated better once he was handed over to the guerrillas on the third day and that his captors promised to free him as soon as possible.

“They told me to be calm, that nothing was going to happen to me, knowing that I was a humble and loved person in my town for the work I do,” he said.

Diaz’s capture has put the ELN into the international spotlight and threatened to rupture peace negotiations between the armed group and the Colombian government.

Luis Díaz raised his Liverpool shirt to reveal a message calling for his father’s release last Sunday after scoring a last-minute equaliser against Luton Town.

His father said that he was able to speak to his son on Thursday as he was released just before the Liverpool player went on against Toulouse. “I had the opportunity to say hello to him before he played a game for his club. [And he was] content, happy, because I was already with my family.”

The ELN’s top commander told local press this week that kidnapping the father of the premier league star had been a “mistake” but that it would not stop kidnapping for ransom.

The group agreed to a six-month ceasefire with the government in June stipulating that it would halt the practice.

Díaz said he would not leave Barrancas despite the traumatic experience and encouraged the country to keep trying to find a peaceful way out of more than six decades of internal conflict. “Let’s drop our weapons and use pens and notebooks,” he said.

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