Colombian rebels free Spanish journalist, 2 others

Salud Hernandez-Mora, correspondent in Colombia for Spain's El Mundo and columnist for the Bogota daily El Tiempo, speaks on the phone after being freed by leftist rebels in Ocana, northeastern Colombia, on Friday.  

Leftist rebels have freed a Spanish correspondent and two other journalists who went missing in a lawless region of Colombia, ending a weeklong saga that recalled some of the darkest days of a long-running conflict the South American nation is trying to move beyond.

“Thank you to everyone who prayed for me,” Salud Hernandez-Mora, a longtime correspondent for Spain’s El Mundo newspaper, said on Friday in her first comment upon being freed.

Rebels identifying themselves as members of the National Liberation Army, or ELN, handed her over to a delegation led by Ramon Catholic clergy in the volatile Catatumbo region.

Hours later, two other journalists from Colombian network RCN were also freed by the rebels.

Ms. Hernandez-Mora said she was working on a story about coca growers when, while on a lonely street, she was approached by a man on a motorcycle who took her equipment. He identified himself as a member of the ELN.

Later 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 rebel commander.

When she crossed paths with the rebels she was informed she was going to stay with them for a couple days and said she knew right away that she was being taken hostage.

“I’ve always been imprudent, because a reporter needs to be imprudent or they’ll miss half the things,” Ms. Hernandez-Mora said during an improvised press conference in the city of Ocana.

The incident shook Colombia because the ELN in March had agreed to join the much-larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and pursue a peace deal with President Juan Manuel Santos’ government to end a half century of fighting.

Mr. Santos, who has demanded the ELN renounce kidnapping and free its captives in order for those talks to begin, celebrated Ms. Hernandez-Mora’s release from Catatumbo, where he had travelled earlier on Friday to personally oversee the search efforts for the journalists.

In addition to her work for El Mundo, Ms. Hernandez-Mora is one of Colombia’s most-prominent columnists, admired and reviled in equal measure for her outspoken conservative views against Mr. Santos’ peace efforts.

Her disappearance last weekend while on assignment shocked Colombians who have experienced dramatic security gains in recent years as Colombia’s half-century conflict winds down.

Ms. Hernandez-Mora was last seen on May 21, arguing with an unidentified man and then taking a motorcycle to an unknown destination.

The two journalists from the RCN network went missing 48 hours later while covering the search for the Spanish journalist.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 6:45:01 AM |

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