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In Colombia ELN guerrillas kidnap teen girl

Leftist ELN guerrillas have kidnapped a 15-year-old girl in northwestern Colombia, officials said Saturday, even as peace talks with the government of President Ivan Duque are on hold until all rebel hostages are released.

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A National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla carries a machine gun in a camp on the banks of the San Juan River in the Choco department, in northwestern Colombia play

A National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrilla carries a machine gun in a camp on the banks of the San Juan River in the Choco department, in northwestern Colombia

(AFP/File)

Leftist ELN guerrillas have kidnapped a 15-year-old girl in northwestern Colombia, officials said Saturday, even as peace talks with the government of President Ivan Duque are on hold until all rebel hostages are released.

Guerrillas abducted the girl on September 7 from her home in Orupa, in the jungle region of Choco, said Modesto Serna, a peace advisor to regional government officials.

"It is especially important that the minor returns as soon as possible to her home and family," Serna said in an interview with Blu Radio.

The date is important because it was the deadline set by Duque to see if the guerrillas were serious about re-starting peace talks in Cuba that began under former president Juan Manuel Santos.

A National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel fighter by the name of Comandante Uriel, who heads the regional guerrillas, told reporters that the teen was kidnapped because she was "an armed forces informant," and that she would be released after "routine procedures."

The ELN rebels on Wednesday freed six people they had kidnapped in August, so Duque was especially angered by news of the teen's abduction.

"To kidnap a 15-year-old girl, after releasing some other hostages, and to say that the girl is an informant... is an outrage against children in Colombia," he said Saturday.

The government believes the ELN -- Colombia's last guerrilla force with about 1,500 fighters -- is holding at least 10 hostages.

Duque, who took office on August 7 promising to take a hardline against the ELN guerrillas, maintains that in order to resume peace talks the rebels must release all their hostages and end "all criminal activities."

The ELN is seeking a deal similar to the peace arrangement reached with much larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels in 2016 under Duque's predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos.

Dangerous ex-FARC rebel wounded

Not all FARC guerrillas put down their arms in the 2016 peace deal.

Among the dissidents was Walther Arizala, a fighter of Ecuadoran origin nicknamed "Guacho" who authorities say is operating with his gang in the wild Colombian-Ecuador border region as an enforcer for Mexico's powerful Sinaloa drug cartel.

Duque said that "Guacho" was wounded in a gunfight with Colombian soldiers in a jungle region of Narino province, on the border with Ecuador.

Soldiers and police have cordoned off the area where Arizala was wounded and are closing in to find him, Duque said.

A Colombian soldier died in the fighting, a military source told AFP.

Arizala is believed to have ordered the abduction and murder of reporters from Quito's El Comercio newspaper in March and April.

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