BOGOTA – No evidence has been found to confirm that Spanish journalist Salud Hernandez Mora was kidnapped and a committee formed by civilians and members of the clergy plans to search for her in Colombia’s Catatumbo province, officials in the city of El Tarra told EFE on Monday.
Hernandez, a correspondent for Spain’s El Mundo newspaper and columnist for the Colombian daily El Tiempo, was seen for the last time in El Tarra over the weekend.
The journalist’s whereabouts is unknown since Saturday, when she went missing in Catatumbo, a strife-torn province on the border with Venezuela.
“We don’t know with any certainty whether she’s with some (armed) group or is out reporting,” El Tarra spokesman Miguel Duarte told EFE by telephone.
Guerrilla groups, including the National Liberation Army, or ELN, and the Frente Libardo Mora Toro, a Popular Liberation Army, or EPL, unit, operate around El Tarra.
The government considers the EPL to be a drug trafficking organization.
Contrary to what some media outlets have reported, there are no indications that Hernandez was kidnapped and she was last seen getting on a motorcycle and driving out of El Tarra on Saturday, Duarte said.
El Mundo, citing military spokesmen, reported that Hernandez Mora was kidnapped by the ELN, Colombia’s second-largest leftist rebel group.
“There’s no evidence (of a kidnapping), she willing got on a motorcycle, paid (the fare) and took off. We can’t go out on the line and say some group has her when it doesn’t add up,” Duarte said.
President Juan Manuel Santos, meanwhile, said officials did not have any information confirming that Hernandez was kidnapped.
“We don’t have any information and no one has claimed to have kidnapped her, taken her against her will,” the president said during a National Police promotion ceremony in Bogota.
Hernandez Mora was last spotted dining with a nun at a restaurant in El Tarra, media reports said.
“The information we have is that on Saturday evening, Salud Hernandez was in the city of El Tarra and she was picked up after lunch there by a motorcycle and headed to the rural district of Filogringo,” Santos said.
The Spanish journalist “paid the driver of the motorcycle 35,000 pesos (about $10) ... that’s the last we know of Salud Hernandez,” the president said.
Hernandez, who has lived in Colombia for several years, is known for her tough position against guerrilla groups and harsh criticism of the government’s peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the country’s largest leftist insurgent group.
The Defense Ministry said Sunday it was sending military and police reinforcements to the El Tarra area to try to find Hernandez.