Colombia's ELN rebels free Canadian geologist

Tue Aug 27, 2013 5:05pm EDT
 
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By Helen Murphy

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's ELN rebels freed a Canadian geologist they had held captive for seven months on Tuesday, meeting one of the demands by President Juan Manuel Santos to enable the start of peace talks with the insurgent group.

Jernoc Wobert was seized on January 18 in northern Bolivar province along with two Peruvian and three Colombian miners contracted by the Toronto-based Braeval Mining gold mining company. His colleagues were later freed by the leftist ELN, or National Liberation Army, the smaller of two rebel groups fighting the government for almost five decades.

Wobert was released in a rural area to a mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross and has been examined by a doctor, said ICRC spokesman Jordi Raich in a statement.

Santos has conditioned any peace talks with the ELN on freeing Wobert and all other captives it holds in the nation's jungles. ELN leaders have expressed interest in starting peace negotiations similar to those currently under way with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

It is not known how many hostages the group holds.

"We hope that this effort contributes to a healthy exchange and support for peace in Colombia," ELN leader Nicolas Rodriguez said in a video posted on the group's website. He said the release was a humanitarian gesture.

The ELN, which is against mining by foreign companies in Colombia, pledged to free Wobert after Toronto-based Braeval said last month it would no longer mine in the area where he was kidnapped. The company did not link the decision to Wobert's capture.

Efforts to rid Colombia of its reputation as one of the most dangerous places to do business has led to a rush of investment into areas that were once off-limits.   Continued...

 
Jernoc Wobert of Canada gestures to the media while arriving at Barrancabermeja airport August 27, 2013. REUTERS/Emmanuel Perez