Officials say the three journalists were held by ELN guerrillas
They disappeared in a remote region over the past week
Three journalists allegedly kidnapped by a Marxist guerrilla group in Colombia were released Friday after nearly a week in captivity, officials said.
Spanish journalist Salud Hernandez disappeared May 21 while covering a story in a remote region inhabited by guerrilla groups and organized crime. She was delivered to a Catholic priest and a government human rights official Friday in the town of Torrán, Roman Catholic Monsignor Gabriel Ángel Villa, bishop of Ocaña, told CNN en Español.
The monsignor said he spoke by phone with Hernandez, who said she was with the guerrilla group ELN.
Hours later, President Juan Manuel Santos wrote on Twitter that the remaining two journalists were freed after being held by the ELN.
Correspondent Diego D’Pablos and cameraman Carlos Melo, who work for the RCN Colombian TV network, went missing Monday in the same region.
Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said Thursday that the ELN was responsible for the disappearance of all three journalists. Villa said Hernandez told him the two men were in ELN’s hands.
Hernandez ‘doing well’
In announcing Hernandez’s release, Villa said she was already safe and sound and on her way to the capital of Bogota.
“She’s doing very well and sounded as energetic as she has always been. She said that what happened to her was regrettable,” Villa said.
Hernandez went missing last Saturday in Catatumbo, a remote region in the Norte de Santander province, while covering a story about illegal crops.
Villa said Hernandez told him she was with the ELN (the Spanish acronym for the National Liberation Army), but didn’t provide specific details about why she had been missing for six days. She didn’t specify whether she had been kidnapped either.
“It’s an ambiguous situation and Salud didn’t want to provide any details. She said she was a bit tired and was going to wait until she was more at ease to appear in front of the media. She simply said, ‘Thank you, Monsignor, for having the church mediate. In two hours you can release the information about my release and the fact that I’m traveling back to Bogota,’” Villa said.
Hernandez, who reports for the Spanish daily El Mundo and writes a column for Bogota’s daily El Tiempo, told Villa she was on her way to the city of Cucuta from where she was going to take a flight back to Bogota.
Peace talks with rebels ongoing
ELN has a heavy presence in Catatumbo, an area of nearly 5,000 square kilometers (1,930 square miles) in the Norte de Santander province. Illegal crops are Catatumbo’s economic engine, experts say, and the area is also home to drug traffickers.
The ELN is the second-largest guerrilla group in Colombia after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Both groups are negotiating a peace agreement with the Colombian government, with Cuba mediating.
The Colombian president said Tuesday he had ordered an army commander and the director of national police to travel to the region to oversee search efforts.
If the journalists were kidnapped, it could become an obstacle for peace talks between the Colombian government and the two guerrilla groups, since putting a halt to kidnappings is one of the conditions the government set for negotiations.
RCN news director Claudia Gurisatti told CNN en Español on Tuesday that Hernandez is an aggressive journalist, covering places to which other journalists wouldn’t dare travel.
“She’s a woman who has traveled all of the Colombian countryside, its mountains, its landscapes and valleys … as an average citizen would. She doesn’t bring an advance or production team,” Gurisatti said.
Hernandez is also known as a fierce critic of Santos and Colombia’s peace process.
CNN’s Richard Beltran and Nelson Quinones contributed to this report.