National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas, who have resumed peace talks with the Colombian government, on Wednesday released two soldiers they kidnapped near the Venezuelan border earlier this month.
“As a unilateral humanitarian gesture, it has been decided to hand over the prisoners of war,” read a statement from the insurgent group given to officials from the state ombudsman’s office, which mediated the handover of the soldiers.
The institution released a photo of the soldiers, identified as Fernando Urrego and Luifer Mejia, along with several of their officers and a priest. Behind them can be seen eight camouflaged guerrillas, armed with rifles and with their faces covered.
The men in uniform were detained between 2 and 3 November while they were traveling in a bus to Teme, a municipality in the border department of Arauca. According to the military, they were “in civilian clothes and defenseless” when they were stopped by the insurgents.
According to the ELN, the two soldiers carried out “intelligence missions”.
The government plans to restart this month peace talks with the last recognized guerrilla in the country after the disarmament of the FARC in 2017.
“Today we are on the verge of reactivating the negotiating table,” the government’s High Commissioner for Peace Danilo Rueda wrote on Twitter without mentioning the communique.
Venezuela will be one of the sites for the talks. Cuba and Norway are also guarantors for the talks.
Despite signing a peace deal with the FARC, Colombia has been mired in more than six decades of internal conflict that has claimed more than nine million lives, including dead, kidnapped, injured and displaced.