Colombian rebels free Spanish journalist, 2 others | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Colombian rebels free Spanish journalist, 2 others

Salud Hernandez-Mora, correspondent in Colombia for Spain's El Mundo and columnist for the Bogota daily El Tiempo, speaks on the phone after being freed by leftist rebels in Ocana, northeastern Colombia, Friday, May 27, 2016. Hernandez-Mora said she was taken captive on May 21 by rebels of the National Liberation Army, ELN, while she was working on a story about coca growers in a mountainous area dominated by rebels and drug-traffickers near the border with Venezuela. (AP Photo)
May 27, 2016 - 5:49 PM

BOGOTA - Leftist rebels have freed a Spanish journalist who went missing in a lawless region of Colombia, ending a weeklong saga that recalled some of the most-volatile days of a long-running conflict that many in the country had thought were behind it.

"Thank you to everyone who prayed for me," Salud Hernandez-Mora said Friday in her first comments to a local radio upon being freed.

Rebels identifying themselves as members of the National Liberation Army, or ELN, handed her over to a delegation led by Ramon Catholic clergy in the volatile Catatumbo region. Hours later, two other journalists with Colombian network RCN were also freed by the rebels.

Hernandez-Mora said she was working on a story about coca growers in the town of El Tarra when, while on a lonely street, she was approached by a man on a motorcycle who took her equipment. He identified himself as a member of the ELN and promised to return her belongings in a couple of days.

Later she was invited to retrieve her belongings and went in search of the guerrillas on the back of a motorcycle. She said she was aware of the risks but thought it might result in an interview with a rebel leader. When she crossed paths with the rebels she was informed she was going to stay with them for a couple days and she knew right away that she was being held captive.

"I've always been imprudent, because a reporter needs to be imprudent or they'll miss half the things," Hernandez-Mora said in a press conference.

President Juan Manuel Santos celebrated Hernandez-Mora's release from Catatumbo, where he had travelled earlier Friday to personally oversee the search efforts for the journalists.

Hernandez-Mora is a longtime correspondent for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo and one of the country's most-prominent columnists. Her disappearance last weekend while on assignment shocked Colombians who have experienced dramatic security gains in recent years as Colombia's half-century conflict winds down.

Hernandez-Mora was last seen May 21 arguing with an unidentified man and then taking a motorcycle to an unknown destination. The two journalists from the RCN network went missing 48 hours later while covering the search for the Spanish journalist.

The Jamaica-sized Catatumbo region of northeastern Colombia is among the country's poorest, most marginalized backwaters. It is a major coca-growing area and a corridor for cocaine smuggling to Venezuela, with the state able to maintain only a few militarized strongholds.

In addition to the ELN, remnants of the Popular Liberation Army are still active in the area as is the much-larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

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Joshua Goodman is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjoshgoodman His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/joshua-goodman

News from © The Associated Press, 2016
The Associated Press

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