Colombia's second-largest guerrilla group the ELN announced the kidnap of two German citizens in the Venezuelan border region, in what looks like an attempt to increase pressure on the government to let the group join peace talks.
The National Liberation Army (ELN) posted a statement on their website on February 4 saying they were holding two men named "Breur Uwe and Breuer Gunther Otto", who had been captured in Catatumbo, Norte de Santander province -- a jungle region with a strong presence of guerrillas and paramilitary successor groups. The statement said that the men had been held for "weeks," and that the captives hadn't been able to explain their presence in the region, and so were considered to be "intelligence agents."
President Juan Manuel Santos made a statement demanding the men's release. However, regional authorities said there were no records of the two men being in the area, reported Vanguardia. Caracol reported that, according to sources, the men entered the country on tourist visas which expired on January 28.
The German government confirmed the kidnapping, and said that the two men were pensioners who were in the area on a tourist trip, reported El Espectador.
InSight Crime Analysis
If the ELN's statement is accurate -- and it has no history of false kidnap claims -- it raises questions about what two German citizens would have been doing in such a remote and dangerous region of Colombia. The rebels' allegation they are spies seems extremely far-fetched, but the fact no companies have reported any German employees in the area does makes the men's supposed presence there mysterious.
Assuming the kidnapping has taken place, it can be interpreted as another action carried out as part of the ELN's bid to be included in peace talks currently taking place between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Cuba. Since talks began in last November the ELN has repeatedly stated its desire to be included, even sending an unauthorized delegation to the island, but the government has said although it is open to negotiations with the group, it is waiting until the the time is right.
In January, the ELN launched a series of attacks and kidnapped five members of a gold mining team, including a Canadian and two Peruvians, in an attempt to force the government's hand. Santos claimed this week that the government knew the location of the kidnapped workers, and told the ELN to free them, according to El Espectador