Dutch journalists likely kidnapped by Colombian rebels

National Liberation Army vows to ‘look into case’ after authorities demand release of pair

Colombian soldier Fredy Moreno (centre) who was kidnaped by National Liberation Army, is seen next to ELN members, before his release in Arauca, Colombia on February 6th, 2017. Photograph: Daniel Martinez/AFP/Getty Images

Colombian soldier Fredy Moreno (centre) who was kidnaped by National Liberation Army, is seen next to ELN members, before his release in Arauca, Colombia on February 6th, 2017. Photograph: Daniel Martinez/AFP/Getty Images

 

Two Dutch journalists – one of them the presenter of a high-profile TV programme – have gone missing in Colombia, believed by the authorities there to have been kidnapped by left-wing ELN guerillas, currently involved in peace talks with the government.

Derk Bolt (62), presenter of Spoorloos (“Vanished”), a programme that helps relatives to trace loved ones gone missing around the world, disappeared with his longtime cameraman, Eugenio Follender (58), in the north of the country near the Venezuelan border last weekend.

The journalists, who were searching for the birth mother of a Colombian child adopted by a Dutch couple, went missing in the Catatumbo region, a national park known as a stronghold of the ELN (National Liberation Army) and of rebels-turned-drug traffickers, the EPL (Popular Liberation Army).

According to the Colombian police, the two were last seen when they were stopped at a checkpoint near the town of El Tarra – in the same area where a Spanish journalist and several Colombian colleagues were kidnapped last year. All were later released unharmed.

So far, communications between the Colombian government and the ELN have been exclusively via Twitter.

Abductions

The authorities in Bogota tweeted a demand for “the immediate release of the two Dutch men” and said the army had sent specialist forces to the region to start an immediate search.

The ELN, which has neither confirmed nor denied the abductions, responded with a tweet promising to “look into the case”.

In The Hague, the Dutch foreign ministry said liaison with the Colombian government was being given “the highest priority” – and said the Dutch ambassador to Colombia had arrived in the area on Tuesday to oversee any negotiations to secure the safe release of Bolt and Follender.

The ELN is Colombia’s second-largest guerrilla group, with an estimated 2,000 or so fighters compared to the Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) which had about 7,000 before it signed a peace deal with the government last November after four years of talks.

A Marxist-Leninist revolutionary group formed in 1964, the ELN, which has bombed the country’s oil and electricity infrastructure and kidnapped hundreds of people over the years, is categorised by both the US and the EU as a terrorist organisation.

Following the Farc, the ELN also launched peace talks in February but progress has been slow. The most recent talks last month were put on hold pending the outcome of an “information-sharing” summit between the two groups, which was held in Cuba.

In all, the war between the Farc and ELN and the Colombian government, supported by right-wing paramilitaries, has led to 260,000 deaths and tens of thousands of “disappearances”, and has left about six million people displaced.