BOGOTA – Colombia’s ELN guerrillas will keep their promise to free a former congressman held captive for the last six months, the group’s top representative in talks with the government said Friday.
A formal dialogue between the government and the National Liberation Army, or ELN, was supposed to begin Thursday in the Ecuadorian capital, but Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos postponed the launch pending the release of the hostage.
“We are going to fulfill the liberation of Odin Sanchez,” the ELN’s Pablo Beltran told Blu Radio.
The ELN, Colombia’s second-largest insurgency, “is entirely ready to change, to assume responsibilities, and we hope the regime does likewise,” Beltran said.
Odin Sanchez has been in the hands of the ELN since he volunteered to take the place of his brother Patrocinio, former governor of the northwestern province of Choco, who was grabbed by the guerrillas in 2013.
The government’s point man for talks with the ELN, Juan Camilo Restrepo, said late Thursday that the International Committee of the Red Cross had informed him the operation for Sanchez’s release was under way.
He added, however, that the ELN knew they had to return Sanchez before formal talks could get under way.
Blu Radio also asked Beltran about a report from the Colombian army accusing the ELN of killing two people this week in the northeastern province of Arauca.
“When we sat down the first time for dialogue with the government, they told us that this dialogue was going to happen amid conflict. We said from the start that it is better to have the dialogue amid a bilateral cease-fire and the Santos government did not want that,” Beltran responded.