Cafod has welcomed the release of the father of the footballer Luis Díaz by Colombian guerrillas, brokered by United Nations and Church officials.
Díaz’s parents Luis Manuel Díaz and Cilenis Marulanda were kidnapped by armed men near the Venezuelan border on 28 October. Police rescued Marulanda within hours but could not locate Díaz, deploying special forces in the search amid fears that he had been smuggled into Venezuela.
His family pleaded for his release and reported that the National Liberation Army (ELN) who were responsible had told them that the kidnapping was a mistake.
The ELN said that its plans to release Díaz were stymied by military searches in northern Colombia, stalling the peace talks that have been taking place since a ceasefire in August. The Church is one of the four stake-holders in the talks, alongside the government, the ELN and the UN.
The Colombian authorities said they would adjust their operations to facilitate the release, and on Thursday Díaz landed in a helicopter at an airstrip in the city of Valledupar, after 13 days of captivity. He was accompanied by the Bishop of Riohacha Francisco Ceballos and Mgr Héctor Fabio Henao, as well as UN officials.
In a statement giving thanks for Díaz’s safety, the Colombian Bishops’ Conference said that Bishop Ceballos and Mgr Henao – the bishops’ delegate for Church-state relations and a former head of Caritas Colombia – had “formed the humanitarian commission in charge of facilitating his release”.
They had condemned the kidnapping in a statement on 3 November and offered to “collaborate in whatever is necessary so that there is not a single human being experiencing the harsh conditions of kidnapping”.
Cafod praised Mgr Henao’s role in negotiations and his work as its partner through Caritas.
“We are proud to support Mgr Héctor Fabio Henao, who is respected and renowned in Colombia and around the world,” said Ulrike Beck, the agency’s Colombia programme officer.
“He has worked for decades on promoting peace, human rights and an end to the armed conflict. In December 2003 he led talks resulting in the release of British hostage Mark Henderson and six other foreign tourists held by ELN guerrillas.”
A statement from the government delegation to the peace talks said 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 Díaz has placed our dialogue in a critical situation and because of it, the time has come to take decisions to eliminate kidnapping.”