Latin America & Caribbean

Colombian gang 'sold kidnap victims to ELN guerrilla'

Picture taken from a video posted on the National Liberation Front website on 7 January, 2015, showing members of the ELN on the 50th anniversary of their foundation Image copyright AFP
Image caption The ELN is estimated to have some 1,500 active fighters

Prosecutors in Colombia say they have dismantled a gang which allegedly kidnapped people and sold them on to the Marxist ELN rebel group.

Twelve people have been arrested on suspicion of belonging to the gang, which operated in the north-western province of Choco.

Among them is a local councillor, prosecutors said.

The ELN is Colombia's second largest rebel group and partly funds itself through extortion and ransom payments.

Kidnap to order

The gang is believed to have been behind at least six kidnappings, prosecutor Luis Gonzalez Leon said.

All six victims were handed over by the gang to the ELN rebel group, he added.

Among them was the mayor of the town of Alto Baudo, Freddy Palacios Ramirez, who was seized in December and is still believed to be in the hands of the ELN.

The ELN rebels are thought to have paid the gang up to $125,000 (£81,500) per kidnap victim, the prosecutor said.

The rebel group announced last year that it was willing to enter into peace talks with the Colombian government.

But the government demanded that the group free all of its captives first.

The ELN was founded in 1964 to fight Colombia's unequal distribution of land and riches. It is estimated to have some 1,500 active fighters.

It is smaller and commands less territory than Colombia's other Marxist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

Peace talks between the government and the Farc have been going on for more than two years, with the next round due to start on Wednesday.

The two sides have reached partial deals on several issues but have not yet reached a definitive peace accord.

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