The father of Liverpool footballer Luis Diaz has been freed by his captors in Colombia – almost two weeks after being kidnapped.
Luis Manuel Diaz was released by guerrillas from the National Liberation Army (ELN) according to the Colombian FA.
Reports say he was handed over to the UN humanitarian commission, the church and medical personnel in the Serrania del Perija region, close to the Venezuelan border.
He had been abducted by armed men while driving in La Guajira.
The 26-year-old footballer’s mother, Cilenis Marulanda, was rescued within hours by police after roadblocks were set up.
Those negotiating peace talks with the ELN celebrated Mr Diaz’s freedom but made it clear the kidnapping “should never have happened”, in a statement.
It said: “The current process with the ELN has advanced like no other until today. Regardless, our delegation considers that the kidnapping of Luis Manuel Diaz has placed our dialogue in a critical situation and because of it, the time has come to take decisions to eliminate kidnapping.”
All people being held by the ELN must be liberated, the statement added, though it did not give a figure for the remaining hostages.
The Colombian FA thanked the government, the military, authorities and everyone involved in securing Mr Diaz’s release, adding: “Behind a ball, the dreams and illusions of boys and girls, young people, women, men and adult soccer players, their loved ones and an entire country roll.
“Football is passion in peace. Let no one ever think of attacking that reality again.”
The Colombian President Gustavo Petro said: “Long live freedom and peace”.
Diaz’s parents were abducted by armed men on motorcycles at a petrol station in the town of Barrancas, near Colombia’s border with Venezuela on 28 October.
The Liverpool winger had pleaded with his father’s captors to release him, having said he and his brothers were in a “desperate” situation.
Special forces were deployed to search for Mr Diaz, with air and land patrols trawling a mountain range that straddles both Colombia and Venezuela – as Colombia’s police director vowed to use every agent to find him.
Officials said they could not rule out the possibility that he had been smuggled over the border – meaning he would be out of reach of Colombian police.
A reward of $48,000 (£39,000) had been offered for information leading police to the hostage.
The ELN had given hope to the footballer, his family and those connected to Liverpool FC after they said the kidnapping was a mistake and said it had ordered the release of his father.
On Sunday, the guerrilla group said that the planned release was stifled by military deployments in the north of Colombia and it could not guarantee Diaz’s father’s safety in those conditions.
The Colombian military said that it was shifting its positions to facilitate a release, a day afterwards.
Diaz came off the bench to save Liverpool from a shock defeat at Luton on Sunday, claiming a stoppage-time equaliser to snatch a 1-1 draw.
He lifted his shirt in celebration to reveal a message on a white T-shirt that read “libertad para papa” or “freedom for my father”.
The kidnapping of Diaz’s father disrupted the Colombian government’s peace talks with the ELN which restarted last year in hopes of ending the group’s part in the country’s 60-year conflict, which has killed at least 450,000 people.
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