BOGOTA, Colombia – Two Dutch journalists believed to have been kidnapped by leftist rebels in a volatile region of northeastern Colombia remained in captivity Wednesday as authorities vowed to secure their safe return.
In a Facebook post, the show the journalists work for identified them as Eugenio Follender and Derk Bolt. Bolt hosts the television show called Spoorloos (Without a Trace), which attempts to help people find their long-lost blood relatives.
The journalists were reporting in El Tarra on Monday when they were captured by members of the National Liberation Army, or ELN, according to the Colombian military. ELN leaders, who have been negotiating a peace accord with the government since earlier this year, tweeted that they were looking into the report and hoped to "help clarify" the situation.
By late Tuesday, the rebel group said it had still been unable to verify whether any of its members were among those responsible for the kidnapping. The ELN added nonetheless that in a region so deeply afflicted by Colombia's armed conflict that unfamiliar people are sometimes temporarily detained as a precautionary safety measure and that it would be "natural for any insurgent force."
Meanwhile, officials and advocates called for their immediate release.
"Colombian authorities should do their utmost to locate the journalists and bring them to safety," said Carlos Lauria, Americas' director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. "All sides in the Colombian conflict must respect the internationally recognized status of journalists as civilians."
A humanitarian commission traveled to the town of nearly 11,000 near the border with Venezuela where the journalists were last seen. Richar Claro, a local official who is part of the commission, told W Radio that the journalists were "fine for the moment."
"One of the journalists needs medicine that we are getting," he said, while not disclosing how he had obtained the information.
Dutch Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Daphne Kerremans said "the case has our highest priority."
The Spoorloos show said in a message on Facebook that its staff wouldn't be making any further comments in order to ensure the journalists' safety.
Four days before going missing, Bolt shared his impressions about reporting in Colombia in a blog post. He described filming in Colombia's vast tropical flatlands known as Los Llanos and breaking out with what appeared to be a rash after going for a swim.
He said he went to a doctor and was diagnosed with having an allergic reaction to a tick bite.
By the end of filming, he said the bumps had dried up.
"My skin is as soft as a peach again, but as I write it over, I get itching again," he wrote. "Maybe I'm allergic to my own memories."