he father of Liverpool star Luis Diaz was finally freed by kidnappers on Thursday almost two weeks after he was captured by Colombian guerrillas, with manager Jurgen Klopp saying the player was very happy.
Diaz started Liverpool’s loss at Toulouse on Thursday night just hours after his father was taken into the hands of a ‘humanitarian commission’ made up of the Catholic church and the UN. The plan was to take Diaz Snr to a nearby city for medical checks.
First images released on Colombian television showed him wearing a cap and holding a drink, waving an arm in the air. Liverpool said they were ‘delighted by the news’ and thanked ‘all those involved in securing his release’.
Diaz was taken by the left-wing terror group on October 28 in an armed attack and a huge search was launched to locate and release him.
He was seized at gunpoint along with his wife and the government soon blamed Colombia’s last remaining rebel group, the National Liberation Army. Diaz’s mother, Cilenis Marulanda, was left behind in a car.
Officials said they could not rule out the possibility that he had been smuggled over the border to Venezuela through a dense jungle, meaning he would have been out of reach of Colombian police. A reward of about £40,000 was offered for crucial information.
Liverpool manager Klopp spoke movingly of the club’s support for their player who was told not to head home for security reasons. All members of his squad had paid visits to Diaz’s home to offer their support and the side’s Latin American players are thought to have taken the lead.
Armed men abducted Díaz Sr and his wife on 28 October in their home town of Barrancas in Colombia’s northern La Guajira state. Though Cilenis Marulanda, the footballer’s mother, was freed hours later, Díaz Sr was smuggled away on a motorbike.
Local reports alleged that he had been abducted by local mafia but the true identity of his captors was revealed on 2 November when a team of government officials negotiating with armed groups said the ELN, the country’s oldest active guerrilla group, held him hostage.
Local television channels showed Díaz Sr at an airstrip in the city of Valledupar in Colombia’s Cesar province on Thursday after he descended from a helicopter.
The government’s negotiating delegation at peace talks with ELN said in a statement it celebrated the liberation and that Díaz Sr was safe and sound, but 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,” the statement said.
ELN leaders pledged on 2 November to free the 56-year-old, raising hopes of his imminent release, but Díaz’s family, Colombians and football fans across the world were left waiting anxiously for news of his freedom for almost another week.
Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro, earlier criticised the armed rebels for putting Díaz’s life in unnecessary danger and harming peace negotiations with the government.
“There is a willingness expressed by the [ELN’s leadership] to release him as soon as possible but the hours pass and, as time passes, the circumstances in which Mr Diaz is in become very dangerous,” Petro told journalists in Washington DC last Friday.
Díaz’s family demanded proof this week that he was still alive as fears grew for his safety.
The ELN has blamed the Colombian military – which has been combing a mountain range bordering Venezuela for signs of Diaz’s whereabouts – for the delays.
It is not yet clear who brokered his freedom and whether the armed rebels received payment in exchange for freeing him.
Díaz Jr joined Liverpool from Porto for €40m in January 2022, quickly proving himself one of the club’s most talented players and the Colombian national team’s brightest star. The 26-year-old was absent from Liverpool’s squad against Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest but returned to play Luton on Sunday, scoring an injury-time equaliser.
The ELN’s involvement in Díaz Sr’s capture has cast the world’s eyes on the human rights violations committed by the guerrillas and threatens to derail peace negotiations with armed groups in Colombia. The ELN agreed to a six-month ceasefire with the government in June this year and pledged not to take civilians hostage.
Sergio Guzmán, the director of Colombia Risk Analysis, said: “The kidnapping of the parents of one of Colombia’s soccer stars and most beloved public figures undermines credibility in the peace process, undermines the credibility of the ELN and worsens the government’s ability to sell Total Peace as a credible alternative to Colombia’s long history of violence and conflict.”
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