The head of Colombia's ELN guerilla group on Saturday acknowledged the organization made a "mistake" when it abducted the father of Liverpool footballer Luis Diaz last week, and vowed to work toward his release.
Diaz's parents were abducted in their hometown of Barrancas near the Venezuelan border last Saturday, but his mother was rescued hours later.
Authorities have blamed the kidnapping on an ELN unit and have launched a massive search for Diaz's father, Luis Manuel Diaz.
"The retention of Luis Diaz's father by the Northern War Front was a mistake," ELN commander Antonio Garcia, wrote on his Telegram channel.
"Lucho is a symbol of Colombia -- that is how we in the ELN feel about him," he added, using the nickname of the 26-year-old Diaz, who has made 11 appearances this season for Liverpool and scored three goals.
The incident has threatened to derail high-stakes peace negotiations between the rebel group and leftist President Gustavo Petro, taking place amid a six-month ceasefire.
On Wednesday, the ELN peace negotiators acknowledged to their government counterparts that the Northern War Front was holding Diaz's father.
In his Telegram post on Saturday, Garcia said that ELN's central command was overseeing efforts to set the footballer's father free and had instructed its units to cooperate.
"We hope that the operational situation on the ground can be resolved, this is the guidance that the commanders have to expedite the release," Garcia said.
Local media have published a statement purportedly from the Northern War Front, in which the rebels explain they had kidnapped Diaz's father for ransom and didn't realize he was the father of the country's football star.
The statement could not be independently verified.
Two friends of Diaz's father have composed a song calling for his release.
"Enough of the kidnappings in Colombia," one of the two men, Libardo Brito, told AFP.
- 'Total peace' -
Petro, a former urban guerrilla himself, took office in August 2022 with the stated goal of achieving "total peace" in a country ravaged by decades of fighting between security forces, leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and drug gangs.
More than 38,000 people have been kidnapped in Colombia over the years, mainly by groups raising funds with ransom money.
The ELN, one of Colombia's last recognized guerrilla groups, started as a leftist ideological movement in 1964 before turning to crime -- focusing on kidnapping, extortion, violent attacks and drug trafficking.
More than 240 people were detained in just the first nine months of this year by illegal groups in the country, 70 percent more than during the same period last year, according to data from the defense ministry.