Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of three journalists who have gone missing in the past six days in the northeastern region of Catatumbo. The Colombian government confirmed yesterday that all three are being held hostage by the National Liberation Army, Colombia’s second largest rebel group.
The first to disappear was Salud Hernández-Mora, the correspondent of the Spanish daily El Mundo, on 21 May. She was followed two days later by reporter Diego D’Pablos and cameraman Carlos Melo of the Colombian TV broadcaster RCN, who were trying to find out what had happened to Hernández-Mora.
All three disappeared in an area near the Venezuelan border where several armed groups operate.
After a major search operation lasting several days, defence minister Luis Carlos Villegas confirmed “with certainty” yesterday that “the National Liberation Army (ELN) is responsible for the disappearance of the three journalists.”
The ELN is the second biggest leftist guerrilla group operating in Colombia, after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
“We call for the immediate release of the three journalists held hostage by the National Liberation Army,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk.
“The authorities must do everything possible to protect these journalists and facilitate their release. Journalists operating in conflict zones are often exposed to great danger. If they are not protected, they cannot work and their work is essential in these news and information black holes.”
In late March, the government and ELN announced the start of official peace negotiations after more than two years of preliminary talks. The official negotiations were initially scheduled to start at the end of this month, but the group’s continuing abduction of civilians is seen as the main obstacle.
Colombia is ranked 134th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.