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Luis Díaz’s father released by Colombian guerrilla group

By Matias Grez, Stefano Pozzebon and Claudia Rebaza, CNN

(CNN) — The father of Liverpool soccer star Luis Díaz, who was kidnapped by a Colombian guerrilla group last month, was released on Thursday and handed over to representatives of the United Nations and the Catholic Church in Valledupar, Colombia, according to Colombia’s Episcopal Conference.

“We thank God for the release of Mr. Luis Díaz!” the conference posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“With him already are Mons. Francisco Ceballos, bishop of Riohacha, and Mons. Héctor Henao, delegate for Church-State relations, who formed the humanitarian commission in charge of facilitating his release.”

Ceballos was on board a UN-funded helicopter that picked up Díaz’s father, Luis Manuel Díaz, from a forest area along the Colombian border with Venezuela.

The UN said its political mission in Colombia worked closely with the Colombian government, the Catholic Church and the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla group to release Díaz Sr.

“We were involved in his handing over from the ELN into his freedom,” UN Secretary-General spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said following a question from CNN’s Caitlin Hu. “We, along with the church, were in charge of the actual operations, so we used our helicopters, our planes.”

Dujarric added that Díaz’s father was taken to one of the UN’s regional offices in Valledupar in the northeast part of Colombia, where he was reunited with his family.

Díaz Sr. and his wife, Cilenis Marulanda, were kidnapped by armed men from the ELN on motorcycles at a gas station in Barrancas, the family’s hometown in northern Colombia, on October 28.

Marulanda was rescued later that same day, but a major police and military search operation had been ongoing in an attempt to find Díaz Sr.

Díaz played and scored for Liverpool on Sunday and pleaded for the release of his father after the Premier League match against Luton Town.

On Tuesday, the ELN said that Colombian military operations were not allowing the release of Díaz Sr., with the guerrilla group saying in a statement that they were trying “to avoid incidents with official forces,” referring to the presence of military troops in an undisclosed area.

Reactions to the release

Soon after the news of his father’s release, Díaz was named in the starting lineup for Liverpool’s Europa League match against Toulouse on Thursday night in France.

“We are delighted by the news of Luis Díaz’s father’s safe return and we thank all those involved in securing his release,” the club said in a statement.

The Colombian government’s Peace Delegation and the ELN both welcomed the release of Díaz’s father.

In a statement on Thursday, the delegation thanked the police and military, as well as the United Nations verification mission in Colombia and the Episcopal conference, for their help with Díaz Sr.’s release.

“We hope he regains peace of mind soon, changed by a deed that should never have occurred,” the delegation’s statement read.

“Kidnapping is a crime that cruelly violates human dignity, causes immense suffering to families and communities, and violates the humanity of the kidnapped person in their deepest intimacy.”

The delegation added that the kidnapping has “plunged” the ongoing peace talks with the ELN “into a critical situation,” and at the next meeting, it will demand that all current ELN captives “be released in conditions of safety and dignity immediately.”

Those demands were repeated by Colombia’s Ombudsman Carlos Camargo Assis, who called on the ELN and “all illegal armed groups” to release all kidnapping victims currently being held captive in the country, noting that there had been 79 kidnappings so far this year.

In addition, the Colombia Football Federation thanked all of the forces “that made possible the release of Luis Manuel Díaz, father of our player Luis Díaz.”

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Caitlin Hu and Abel Alvarado contributed to this report.

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