Thursday, November 7, 2013

Colombia: ELN Says It Will Release Chilean Engineer, 31, Held 15 Months, If Employer Leaves Country

According to The Latin American Tribune, Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) said on Tuesday (November 5) its decision to release “for humanitarian reasons” an agronomy engineer it kidnapped on July 30, 2012.

“Before constituting the humanitarian commission” tasked with receiving the engineer, the ELN said it is awaiting “a pronouncement” from the La Sierra Agriculture Company (the Chilean firm for which León Andrés Montes Ceballos works), the ELN insists that La Sierra leave Colombia.

Montes, 31, was on assignment for the Chilean company when the rebels kidnapped him in a rural part of the northwestern province of Antioquia, “acting in correspondence with (our) policy of defending national sovereignty,” the ELN said.

COMMENT: The ELN accuses La Sierra of using “tricks” to get poor peasants in several Antioquia municipalities to plant pine trees on 22,000 hectares (55,000 acres) of land, adding that it is “a non-native tree that is causing a great environmental and social impact in the region.”

“For more than a year, the company has shown no willingness to pay compensation for the damage caused to the environment and to the communities ... (and) no interest in (working for) the release” of Montes, the ELN said.

On Monday (November 4), the ELN turned over to the International Red Cross three petroleum company workers the rebels had been holding for almost two months in the northeastern province of Arauca.

These gestures may well facilitate the start of peace talks with the ELN similar to those the government has been pursuing with the much larger FARC rebel group in Havana since November 2012, although talks with the FARC have hardly been successful.