Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia's ELN rebel group frees Dutch hostage

ELN fighters, 7 January 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption The ELN has about 1,500 members, according to Colombian officials

A Dutch citizen has been freed by Colombia's ELN rebel group after more than a year in captivity in the north-east of the country.

The man's name and the circumstances of his abduction in January 2014 remain unknown.

He was handed over to the members of the International Red Cross and the Catholic Church in a remote area of Norte de Santander province.

The ELN is Colombia's second largest group, after the Farc.

Dutch authorities had been involved in the negotiations to free the man, who is said to be 52 years old, according to Dutch media.

But local Colombian police said they were not aware that the man was being held hostage, El Tiempo newspaper reported.

The ELN, or National Liberation Army, announced last year that it was willing to enter peace negotiations with the Colombian government.

Talks have not begun, however, with President Juan Manuel Santos insisting that the left-wing group must first release its hostages.

Colombia's largest rebel group, the Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), is in negotiations with the government to end five decades of conflict.

Both the ELN and the Farc are Marxist-inspired groups were founded in the 1960s to defend the rights of poor peasants and denounce the presence of "American imperialism" in Colombia.

But they later became engaged in criminal activities, such as drug trafficking and kidnapping, to support their activities.

The ELN has some 1,500 fighters, according to the Colombian government. The Farc are thought to have some 8,000 fighters, down from about 16,000 in 2001.

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