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Colombia's ELN rebels to release two Dutch journalists

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Bogota (AFP)

Colombia's National Liberation Army admitted Thursday that it has detained two Dutch journalists and announced plans to free them, in the midst of talks for the country's last guerrillas to end more than five decades of fighting.

Derk Johannes Bolt, 62, and his cameraman Eugenio Ernest Marie Follender, 58, who were kidnapped Monday, "are in good health and will be released," the ELN rebels announced on one of their social media accounts.

The two men were stopped in El Tarra, a region in the Norte de Santander district near the Venezuela border.

In May 2016, ELN rebels kidnapped in the same region a Colombian-Spanish journalist and two Colombian TV reporters. The journalists were handed over to intermediaries a few days later.

Norte de Santander Governor William Villamizar said a humanitarian commission was mediating the journalists' release, which could happen as early as Thursday.

"We are indeed launching a humanitarian operation to allow the Dutch journalists to be delivered by the ELN in Catatumbo department," he told Blu Radio.

"The release does not affect the dialogue being carried out with the ELN."

On Tuesday, the government's chief negotiator with the guerrillas, Juan Camilo Restrepo, had warned that the latest kidnapping complicated negotiations with the ELN that began in February.

Villamizar said the military and the ELN had been asked to reduced their operations in the area "so as not to endanger the lives of the Dutch journalists" and in order for them to be moved and released in safe conditions.

The Dutch journalists work for Spoorloos, a program on Kro-Ncrv TV regularly presented by Bolt that helps Dutch people trace their biological relatives around the world.

Since launching in 1990, the program says it has received more than 1,000 requests every year for help.

The country's biggest rebel group, the FARC, is scheduled to complete its disarmament by June 27.

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