Colombia’s leftist ELN rebels agree to stop kidnapping for ransom

Colombia’s leftist ELN rebels agree to stop kidnapping for ransom

Rebels from Colombia’s leftist National Liberation Army said Sunday they have agreed to stop using kidnapping as a fund-raising tactic, if the current cease-fire with the government is extended.

The pledge came at the end of a round of talks between the two sides over the weekend in Mexico City.

Colombians have grown angry at kidnappings by the guerrillas, known by their Spanish initials as the ELN. That anger mounted in October when the rebels abducted the father of soccer star Luis Díaz, and held him for 12 days before he was released. Diaz’s mother was rescued within hours by police.

It is not clear if the rebels will release an estimated 38 Colombians they currently hold in captivity, often pending a ransom demand. Nor was it clear if the pledge would be respected in the cease-fire — declared in August and due to expire Jan. 29 — is not extended.

Overcoming the kidnapping scandal marked a renewed breath of air for the often maligned peace talks.

“After critical moments … we have made firm progress toward peace with the ELN,” said the government’s head negotiator, Vera Grabe.

Díaz is one of the most talented players on Colombia’s national team and currently plays for Liverpool in the English Premier League, which he joined last year in a deal worth $67 million. The abduction of his parents came as kidnappings for ransom and extortion of businesses increase in Colombia despite efforts by the nation’s first left-wing government to broker ceasefires with rebel groups.

Criminals and rebel groups in the country have long kidnapped civilians for ransom in order to finance their operations. The ELN was founded in 1964, and is among the last remaining rebel groups to lay down their arms.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro said Friday that extending the cease-fire would depend on talks about eliminating the rebels’ reliance on illicit trade in cocaine and other goods. That topic, which the statement described as “replacing illicit trade,” may be the next stumbling block for the talks since the rebels hotly deny they engage in cocaine smuggling.