Two Dutch journalists working in Colombia’s troubled Catatumbo region along the Venezuelan border are thought to have been kidnapped by the National Liberation Army, or ELN, a leftist guerrilla group that has been stepping up attacks even as it’s trying to hammer out a peace deal.
Colombia’s police on Monday identified the two men as Eugenio Ernest Marie Follender, 58, and Derk Johannes Bolt, 62, and said they were working near the town of El Tarra in northern Colombia when they went missing.
The Army said it was searching the area by land and air and presumed that the “Héctor Front” of the ELN may be holding the journalists.
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On one of its official Twitter accounts, the ELN said it was “investigating to help clear up the case.”
Local media said the two men were television reporters and were last seen on Saturday. The Netherlands’ foreign office could not immediately confirm the report.
The area, known as Catatumbo, is rife with coca fields, contraband routes and several armed groups. It’s the same area where Spanish correspondent Salud Hernández-Mora and two colleagues were kidnapped by the ELN in May 2016 for almost a week. The guerrilla group later apologized for that act, saying it had been unplanned.
The news comes during a complex time in Colombia. On Saturday, a bomb ripped through an upscale shopping center in the capital, killing three and injuring nine. That investigation is ongoing, but local media have suggested it might have been the work of a small and obscure group known as the People’s Revolutionary Movement, or MRP.
The kidnapping comes as ELN members have been meeting with government negotiators in Quito, Ecuador, hoping to reach a peace deal similar to the one that is being implemented with the country’s largest group: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
The government’s strategy has been to negotiate without a cease-fire, and the ELN has been ratcheting up attacks.
Even so, on Tuesday, the 6-month-old deal with the FARC reaches an important milestone as the guerrillas are expected to hand over the majority of their weapons to the United Nations.
Follow Jim Wyss on Twitter @jimwyss