BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s leftist ELN rebels have freed two Colombian army soldiers held hostage for three weeks, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Monday.
The two soldiers were captured during combat with the National Liberation Army, or ELN, in the central province of Boyaca on October 26. Twelve of their fellow soldiers were killed in the battle.
The soldiers were turned over to representatives from the ICRC, the Catholic Church and the public defender’s office and were healthy enough to travel, the ICRC said in a statement.
“We are very pleased to report that this humanitarian operation was completed successfully,” Christoph Harnisch, the head of the ICRC delegation in Colombia said. “The most important thing is that these two people can now be reunited as soon as possible with their families and loved ones.”
The ELN, which has an estimated 2,000 fighters, is smaller and less well-known than the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which has been in peace talks with the government for three years.
Though representatives of the ELN and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos have held exploratory discussions about a peace process, no formal negotiations have yet begun.
Santos said at the time of the soldiers’ capture that the ELN would not gain any advantages in eventual talks by intensifying their assaults on government troops.
The group has battled a dozen governments since it was founded in 1964 and has continued kidnapping and attacks on infrastructure during the exploratory talks.
Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Andrew Hay