Colombia’s ELN rebels free two kidnapped Dutch reporters

Two Dutch journalists who were kidnapped earlier this week by leftist rebels in Colombia have been released unharmed, a Dutch minister has said.The military said on Monday that the two journalists were captured by the ELN in northeastern Colombia near the border with Venezuela.Derk Johannes Bolt and cameraman, Eugenio Ernest Marie Follender of the Dutch entertainment programme Spoorloos, were kidnapped by the ELN on June 17 from Filogringo village.The ELN is Colombia’s last major guerrilla army with about 1,500 troops. The group did not specify where they were set free. In the Netherlands, a Dutch foreign ministry spokeswoman told AFP she was not able to confirm the release.The government of Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and ELN opened peace talks on February 7 in Quito, Ecuador, after almost four years of secret negotiations.The ELN has not confirmed the journalists’ release.The governor of the surrounding Norte de Santander district, William Villamizar, said Thursday a humanitarian commission was mediating their release.The Colombian Ombudsman’s Office, or Defensoría del Pueblo de Colombia, is a national government agency which oversees the protection of civil and human rights. They were kept hidden in houses but one day they were made to walk for 14 hours to evade the army.The ELN, now engaged in exploratory talks with the Colombian government in Ecuador, said on Wednesday they would release the Dutch journalists to a humanitarian commission if they determined that one of their units had kidnapped them. He spoke during an official visit to France.The Colombian conflict erupted in 1964 when the FARC and the smaller ELN took up arms for rural land rights.The fighting, which over the years drew in various rebel and paramilitary groups and drug gangs as well as state forces, has left at least 260,000 people dead, according to authorities.