THE distressed family of Luis Diaz have demanded the kidnappers holding his father hostage offer proof he is alive as the group has still not released him.
On Tuesday, the government’s head negotiator with the guerilla group, Otty Patiño, confirmed the man should be released soon after the Colombian military met the ELN’s demands.
The military withdrew troops from the area surrounding the guerillas’ jungle lair near the border with Venezuela, where the star’s dad is thought to be held.
But Luis Manuel’s ordeal has entered its 11th day after being abducted from his home town of Barrancas, with his family growing concerned about his release.
The missing man’s brother Gabi admitted they are worried and has begged the ELN, to offer proof the 58-year-old is still alive.
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He said: “What we would most like is to have that proof by seeing him and knowing what situation our brother, our relative, our papa, our son is in because my father is here and wants to see his son.”
Luis Alfonso Diaz, the footballer’s cousin, told Colombian state broadcaster RNC: “We are asking the ELN to send us proof of how Luis Manuel is now so we can have some peace of mind.”
The demands are being echoed by government officials and Colombian media which has accused the captors of playing games and speculated that army and police activity was complicating the freedom process as an attempt to buy time while it negotiates a ransom demand.
No information has been made public about the possibility of a cash payment for Luis Manuel’s release.
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After the rebel group was identified as the kidnappers last week, Colombian journalist Salud Hernandez-Mora, warned: “The modus operandi of the kidnap of the parents of Lucho Diaz is identical to other kidnaps this criminal gang has carried out.
“And they only free people in exchange for millions.”
While Colombian media outlet Semana slammed the group today and accused it of lying in an article that read: “It’s vital the ELN hands over proof Luis Manuel Diaz is alive, so his family and the country can see he is good conditions and is indeed in the hands of the Northern War Front.”
Patino, who’s been the government’s chief negotiator in ongoing peace talks with the ELN which started before the October 28 kidnap, said yesterday “The ELN are taking too long to hand their hostage over.
“They should free Mr Diaz today, there’s no reason for them not to do it.”
Colombian military chiefs insisted on Monday they had laid the ground for the release “in the next few hours” after confirming the withdrawal of troops and police.
Around 200 men were told to return to the town of Barrancas to facilitate Operation Freedom after the ELN expressed its concerns.
Colombia’s Army said of the military manoeuvre: “All the guarantees and conditions are being offered so Mr Diaz can recover his freedom in the next few hours.”
It comes after the Liverpool star score a last-gasp equaliser for his team before lifting his shirt to reveal the words “Libertad Para Papa” – meaning “Freedom for my father”.
The footballer on Sunday broke his silence with an emotional social media appeal.
The 26-year-old, referring to his father by his nickname “Mane” wrote on Instagram: “This is not Luis Diaz the player speaking.
“Today it is the son of Luis Manuel Diaz speaking.
“Mane, my dad, is a hard-working family man, the pillar of our family and he’s been kidnapped.
“I ask the ELN for the prompt release of my father, and I ask international organisations to work together for his freedom.
“Every second, every minute, our anguish grows.
“My mother, my brothers and I are desperate, distressed and without words to describe what we are feeling.
“This suffering will only end when we have him back home.
“I beg you to release him immediately, respecting his integrity and ending this painful wait as soon as possible.
“In the name of love and compassion, we ask you to reconsider your actions and allow us to have him back.
“I thank Colombians and the international community for the support received, thank you for so many demonstrations of affection and solidarity in this difficult time that many families in my country find themselves experiencing.”
The ELN responded on Monday with a statement signed by the unit’s leader Commander Jose Manuel Martinez Quiroz.
It said: “On November 2, we informed the country of the decision to release Mr. Luis Manuel Díaz, father of the player Luis Díaz.
“From that date, we began the process to accomplish this as soon as possible. We are making efforts to avoid incidents with government forces.
“The area is still militarised, they are carrying out flyovers, disembarking troops, broadcasting and offering rewards as part of an intense search operation.
“This situation is not allowing for the execution of the release plan quickly and safely, where Mr. Luis Manuel Díaz is not at risk. If operations continue in the area, they will delay the release and increase the risks.
“We understand the anguish of the Díaz Marulanda family, to whom we say that we will keep our word to release him unilaterally, as soon as we have security guarantees for the development of the liberation operation.”
Luis Diaz’s mum Cilenis Marulanda was also abducted near the couple’s home alongside her husband but freed as the police and army hunt for their captors kicked in.
On Sunday morning she fought back tears as she urged the kidnappers to release her partner.
Cilenis made her impassioned plea as she took part in a second march to demand Luis Manuel Diaz’s freedom.
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She said, with her eyes closed before breaking down and being hugged by a relative beside her: “I want them to release him now, that the people who are keeping him free him now back to me, because we want to have him back home.”
Cilenis wore a T-shirt with her husband’s face printed on it under the message: “Your family is waiting for you.”