COLOMBIAN military chiefs said they have laid the ground for the release of Liverpool star Luis Diaz’s dad in the next few hours.
The country's army and police withdrew their troops from the area surrounding ELN's jungle lair as the UN also joined the calls to free Luis Manuel Diaz.
They confirmed last night soldiers and police had been ordered out of the area where the nine-day hunt had been focusing on to facilitate Operation Freedom.
Around 200 men searching for Luis Manuel Diaz in Colombia's Perija Mountains were told to return to the town of Barrancas where he was abducted just over a week ago.
“All the guarantees and conditions are being offered so Mr Diaz can recover his freedom in the next few hours," Colombia’s Army said of the military manoeuvre.
Confirming the strategic withdrawal, Coronel Giovanni Montanez said: “The troops that are taking part in the search operation for Luis Manuel Diaz are being ordered to carry out a repositioning to give guarantees for the handover of this hostage.”
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Men who were on the ground and leading searches and conducting roadblocks have also been removed from the area, Coronel Giovanni Cristancho added.
The military withdrawal comes after the UN joined the calls to release Luis Díaz's dad, Colombian outlet Infobae reports.
“UN Human Rights Colombia joins the urgent call of Luis Díaz for the safe release of his father and we call on the armed groups to respect International Humanitarian Law, the civilian population and to immediately release all the people they have in their possession. power”, UN representative Juliette de Rivero said.
It comes after a pledge by the ELN to “keep its word” and free Luis Manuel Diaz.
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The left-wing guerrilla group said it understood the anguish of the footballer's family.
But it went on to say the government's response made the release difficult when elite police and soldiers swamped areas like the Perija Mountains.
The group insisted it needed “security guarantees” before freeing the football ace's dad.
The statement appeared to confirm speculation the hostage-takers are concerned for their own safety if they hand Mr Diaz over.
It comes after the Liverpool star broke his silence with an emotional social media appeal.
The 26-year-old, referring to his father by his nickname "Mane" wrote on Instagram: “This is not Luis Diaz the player speaking.
Today it is the son of Luis Manuel Diaz speaking.
“Mane, my dad, is a hard-working family man, the pillar of our family and he’s been kidnapped.
“I ask the ELN for the prompt release of my father, and I ask international organisations to work together for his freedom
“Every second, every minute, our anguish grows.
"My mother, my brothers and I are desperate, distressed and without words to describe what we are feeling.
"This suffering will only end when we have him back home.
“I beg you to release him immediately, respecting his integrity and ending this painful wait as soon as possible.
“In the name of love and compassion, we ask you to reconsider your actions and allow us to have him back.
“I thank Colombians and the international community for the support received, thank you for so many demonstrations of affection and solidarity in this difficult time that many families in my country find themselves experiencing.”
He released his statement after coming off the bench to score a last-gasp equaliser for Liverpool against Luton on Sunday afternoon.
The ELN responded with a statement signed by the unit’s leader Commander Jose Manuel Martinez Quiroz.
It said: “On November 2, we informed the country of the decision to release Mr. Luis Manuel Díaz, father of the player Luis Díaz. From that date, we began the process to accomplish this as soon as possible. We are making efforts to avoid incidents with government forces.
“The area is still militarised, they are carrying out flyovers, disembarking troops, broadcasting and offering rewards as part of an intense search operation.
“This situation is not allowing for the execution of the release plan quickly and safely, where Mr. Luis Manuel Díaz is not at risk. If operations continue in the area, they will delay the release and increase the risks.
“We understand the anguish of the Díaz Marulanda family, to whom we say that we will keep our word to release him unilaterally, as soon as we have security guarantees for the development of the liberation operation.”
Luis Diaz’s mum Cilenis Marulanda was also abducted near the couple’s home alongside her husband but freed shortly afterwards.
On Sunday morning she fought back tears as she urged the kidnappers to release her partner.
Cilenis made her impassioned plea as she took part in a second march to demand Luis Manuel Diaz’s freedom.
She said, with her eyes closed before breaking down and being hugged by a relative beside her: “I want them to release him now, that the people who are keeping him free him now back to me, because we want to have him back home.”
Cilenis wore a T-shirt with her husband’s face printed on it under the message: “Your family is waiting for you.”
The guerrilla group has a decades-long history of terror – carrying out military-style assassinations, extortion operations and kidnappings.
Last Tuesday afternoon relatives, friends and well-wishers took to the streets of Barrancas for the first march to demand the liberation of Luis Manuel or Mane as he is better known in his home town.
The march began at 5pm local time and finished at the home of Luis Diaz’s parents.
Many children took part in the march holding up white balloons and wearing Colombian tops with Luis Diaz’s name and shirt number on it.
A local armed with a loudspeaker asked the crowd of protestors: “What does Barrancas demand for Mane Diaz?” and received the rapturous reply: ‘Libertad, Libertad, Libertad’ – ‘Freedom, Freedom, Freedom’ in English.
The Liverpool striker urged people to join the march shortly before it started.
His message, featuring a promotional poster, said: “Take your candle to ignite the light of hope.”
Luis Manuel Diaz was taken hostage at gunpoint alongside his wife on Saturday October 28 at a petrol station in his hometown of Barrancas.
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