The far-left National Liberation Army (ELN) has released a Spanish-Colombian correspondent and two local TV reporters after holding them for several days. The Spaniard and two Colombians were reportedly unharmed.
The three journalists freed on Friday had all gone missing in the remote and restive region of Catatumbo, known to be rife with drug traffickers and guerilla groups.
Salud Hernandez-Mora, who writes for Spain's "El Mundo" newspaper, vanished on Saturday during a reporting trip. TV reporters Diego D'Pablos and Carlos Melo of Colombian channel RCN were then accosted and detained Monday while reporting on her disappearance.
In a printed statement given to Hernandez, the ELN rebel group said it was responding to what it perceived as a security threat. All three journalists were eventually handed over to a delegation from the Catholic Church.
"Thank you very much to the Catholic Church, thank you very much to all my colleagues," Hernandez-Moa, 59, who had last been seen climbing on a motorbike taxi to report on the illegal drug trade. "Everything has happened very quickly. But my return won't be quick because, as we know, the roads in rural Colombia are a disaster."
She told reporters that ELN rebels had treated her well and told her they would hold her for several days.
Colombian TV crew released
Colombian reporter Diego D'Pablos, right, and cameraman Carlos Melo, went missing after going to cover their colleague's disappearance
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos celebrated Hernandez-Mora's release from Catatumbo, where he had traveled earlier Friday to personally oversee the search efforts for the journalists.
The veteran correspondent related how she had been working on a story about coca growers in the town of El Tarra when, while on a deserted street, she was approached by a man on a motorcycle who seized her equipment. He identified himself as a member of the ELN and promised to return her belongings in a couple of days.
Later she said she was invited to retrieve her belongings and went in search of the guerrillas on the back of a motorcycle. She said she was aware of the risks but thought it might result in an interview with a senior rebel.
When she did find the rebels she was informed she was going to stay with them for a couple of days, and she said she knew right away that she was being held captive.
"I've always been imprudent, because a reporter needs to be imprudent, or they'll miss half the things," Hernandez-Mora told a press conference.
ELN is the country's second-largest rebel group. Colombia's militant movements have grown out of a peasant uprising in the 1960s that has spiraled into various armed factions. Over the decades, the groups have left 260,000 people dead and 45,000 missing.
jar/gsw (Reuters, AFP, AP)