The Colombian government has blamed a leftist rebel group, ELN, for the disappearance of three journalists. Officials have called for their swift return and have suspended peace talks until then.
The National Liberation Army (ELN), Colombia's second-largest rebel group, is "responsible for the disappearance" of three journalists, government officials said on Thursday.
Intelligence reports "confirm with certainty" that the Marxist ELN group were behind the disappearances, said Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas. However he stopped short of labeling the events as kidnappings.
"From this point on the responsibility for the safety and freedom of these three citizens is exclusively in their hands," Villegas said.
Over the weekend, Spanish reporter Salud Hernandez-Mora, a correspondent for Spain's "El Mundo" and popular columnist in Colombia, went missing in the volatile El Tarra municipality where the ELN earns money from illegal cocaine production.
Two other journalists, reporter Diego D'Pablos and cameraman Carlos Melo of Colombian TV network RCN, were reportedly detained Monday by gunmen in El Tarra while covering Hernandez-Mora's disappearance.
The RCN journalists along with others were attacked by a group who stole their cameras, cell phones and other equipment, breaking some of it in the process, the Foundation for Press Freedom, a Colombian watchdog group, said.
The Red Cross also joined in on the search to locate the missing journalists at the request of the Colombia government, announced the group on Thursday.
Suspended peace talks
The ELN agreed in March to join the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to begin peace talks with the government.
However, in light of the disappearances, President Juan Manuel Santos said no official talks will start until the supposed hostages are released.
"Following confirmation by the Defense Ministry of the kidnapping of the three journalists ... the negotiating teams for talks with the ELN and the FARC energetically reject these occurrences and demand the immediate liberation of the journalists," said Frank Pearl, head of the government negotiating team for the ELN talks.
The ELN, whose army of 1,500 guerrillas is fragmented, has not commented on the situation.
Unlike FARC, which has demonstrated its interest in bringing an end to the country's 50-year conflict, the more radical ELN has been more defiant, snubbing Santos' requirement that the group renounce kidnapping and free all captives.
rs/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters)