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Luis Díaz’s father released

BARRANCAS, Colombia (AP) — The father of Liverpool striker Luis Díaz was released Thursday by members of a guerrilla group who kidnapped him in northern Colombia, the government announced, ending a 12-day ordeal for the family.

Luis Manuel Díaz’s kidnapping on Oct. 28 in the small town of Barrancas had quickly drawn international attention and appeals for his release. On Sunday, the younger Diaz pleaded for his father ’s freedom after scoring for Liverpool in a Premier League soccer match, revealing a T-shirt saying “Freedom for Papa” in Spanish.

The release by members of the National Liberation Army, or ELN — which has called the kidnapping a mistake — was announced by the government delegation that currently is in peace negotiations with the guerrilla group.

A photo later released by Colombia’s Catholic Church, which helped facilitate the release, showed the elder Díaz wearing a Chicago Bulls baseball cap, a gray shirt and a jacket.

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“These really have been quite the agonizing days, with great uncertainty,” Alfonso Diaz, a cousin of Luis Manuel Diaz, told The Associated Press. “But always with faith placed in God for the best outcome because our family does not deserve an attack of this magnitude.”

It was initially unclear who carried out the abduction. But Colombia’s government announced last week that it had information that Díaz was kidnapped by an ELN unit. The ELN later acknowledged the kidnapping, saying it was a mistake and that the group’s top leadership had ordered the elder Díaz’s release.

An ELN statement Sunday said that the planned release was hampered by military deployments in northern Colombia and that it couldn’t guarantee a safe release under those circumstances. The Colombian military said Monday that it was shifting its positions to facilitate a release.

Both parents of Liverpool’s Díaz had been kidnapped by armed men on motorcycles at a gas station in Barrancas. But the footballer’s mother, Cilenis Marulanda, was rescued within hours by police who set up roadblocks around the town of 40,000 people, which is near Colombia’s border with Venezuela.

After the kidnapping, special forces had been deployed in the area to search for Diaz’s father in a mountain range that straddles both countries and is covered by cloud forest. Police also had offered a $48,000 reward for information leading to him.

Diaz’s father was received Thursday by representatives of the United Nations and the Catholic Church in the area of the mountain range Serranía del Perijá, where he received primary medical care.

He was then taken by helicopter to Valledupar, a community about 56 miles (90 kilometers) from Barrancas, his native town in the northeastern part of the country.

The 26-year-old striker is one of the most talented players on Colombia’s national team. He joined Liverpool in a deal worth $67 million.

The team tweeted it was “delighted by the news” of Diaz’s father release. The forward was included in the starting line-up for the team’s Europa League match against Toulouse on Thursday.

Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Office estimates that between January 2022 and September 2023, armed groups carried out 160 kidnappings and 121 releases.

After Diaz’s father was released, the government’s peace talks delegation demanded in a statement that the ELN immediately free anyone it still “has in captivity” and end its practice of kidnappings.

“It is unsustainable to argue, from an ethical point of view, that trading with human beings is legal, even under the conditions of an armed conflict,” the statement said.

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Suarez reported from Bogota. Associated Press writers James Robson in Manchester, England, and Regina Garcia Cano in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.

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