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Colombian army searches for two more missing reporters

Crew investigating whereabouts of Spanish journalist Salud Hernández-Mora has also disappeared in Catatumbo

Varios vecinos de Catatumbo (en el departamento colombiano de Norte de Santander) protestan por la erradicación de cultivos de coca, en 2013.
Varios vecinos de Catatumbo (en el departamento colombiano de Norte de Santander) protestan por la erradicación de cultivos de coca, en 2013. AFP

Two Colombian journalists disappeared on Monday night in Catatumbo (northeast Colombia) while reporting on the area where Salud Hernández-Mora, a Spanish correspondent for El Mundo newspaper, disappeared on Saturday. Diego Velosa, another reporter who also went missing for several hours, said they were all abducted by National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels. Velosa has since been freed.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the Defense Ministry have confirmed the disappearances and said authorities began a search operation for Diego D’Pablos, an RCN news reporter, and his freelance cameraman Carlos Melo.

The Defense Ministry and media told EL PAÍS the reporters were traveling alone and did not ask for military or police protection

On Monday, the RCN crew and other journalists from various Colombian media outlets descended on the small town of Filogringo near El Tarra, the town where Hernández-Mora was last seen. The Defense Ministry and media told EL PAÍS the reporters were traveling alone and did not ask for military or police protection. While working in the area, a group of people who identified themselves as ELN members detained them. The rebels took their equipment and cellphones.

Four hours after, Diego Velosa, a local correspondent for Caracol Televisión, was freed. The journalist spent the night in a nearby town and traveled to El Tarra on his own the next morning, where he contacted his editors and told them his story. “I was with a local female journalist and a cameraman. When we were ready to broadcast, they asked us to come with them and held us up for a long time,” Velosa explained. The reporter said he did not see the RCN crew but his captors told him they had been detained.

“We were able to talk to him a little bit and he told us that he was able to convince his abductors that he was not an enemy, that he was only doing his job and that is why they freed him,” Caracol Televisión told EL PAÍS. This newspaper was unable to reach Velosa by phone for further comment.

Velosa has become the unofficial spokesman on the case along with El Tarra’s police inspector and the ombudsman. All these sources say that the ELN probably kidnapped the reporters. “We cannot confirm it but we are considering the possibility of a kidnapping,” RCN news chief Claudia Gurisatti said. “The military told us security conditions were not easy, the ombudsman confirms that the area is very hostile but we decided to go alone as we did two weeks before when we were working in the area without any problems. We believe in freedom of information.”

Sources at the Defense Ministry said they were unable to confirm if the search operation for Hernández-Mora had been able to reach the areas of Catatumbo under the control of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Popular Liberation Army (EPL), ELN and Los Pelusos, a drug-trafficking gang that evolved from paramilitary groups.

The director of police said there was a reward of $32,640 for information regarding the missing Spanish reporter

On Tuesday afternoon, General Jorge Hernando Nieto, the director of police, said that Norte de Santander was offering a reward of 100 million pesos ($32,640) for information regarding the whereabouts of the missing Spanish reporter.

President Santos ordered General Alberto José Mejía, army commander and the chief of the Colombian police, to travel to the area to coordinate the search. Officials said the operation is “100% humanitarian,” while Mejía added that there were troops, police officers and airmen combing through Filogringo.

“They have told us that we have not acted swiftly but that’s not true. We have complied with security protocols in order to establish critical areas where to take action,” Mejía explained. The army says “there have been actions [taken] by unmanned aircraft and other types of intelligence operations” over the last few days. Military and police have asked for caution and “understanding.” “We do not know if they have disappeared or have been kidnapped,” General Nieto said. “We are not certain of the facts. We are working to find them safe and sound.”

English version by Dyane Jean François.

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