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One of missing journalists in Colombia freed, bishop says

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Posted at 7:22 PM, May 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-27 19:22:27-04

Flag_of_Colombia.svg(CNN) — Spanish journalist Salud Hernandez, who went missing in Colombia last Saturday while covering a story in a remote region with heavy presence of guerrilla groups and organized crime, is safe and sound and on her way to the Colombia capital of Bogotá, according to the Colombian Catholic Church.

Roman Catholic Monsignor Gabriel Ángel Villa, bishop of Ocaña, told CNN en Español that he spoke over the phone with the journalist Friday afternoon after she regained her freedom.

The monsignor said Hernandez had been delivered to a Catholic priest and a government human rights official in the town of Torrán.

“She’s doing very well and sounded as energetic as she has always been. She said that what happened to her was regrettable,” Monsignor Villa said.

Hernandez went missing last Saturday in Catatumbo, a remote region in the Norte de Santander province, while covering a story about illegal crops.

Monsignor Villa said Hernandez told him she was with the ELN (the Spanish acronym for the National Liberation Army), but didn’t provide specific details about why she had been missing for six days. She didn’t specify whether she had been kidnapped either.

“It’s an ambiguous situation and Salud [Hernandez] didn’t want to provide any details. She said she was a bit tired and was going to wait until she was more at ease to appear in front of the media. She simply said ‘thank you Monsignor for having the church mediate. In two hours you can release the information about my release and the fact that I’m traveling back to Bogota,'” Villa said.

The Spanish journalist who files reports for the Spanish daily El Mundo and writes a column for Bogota’s daily El Tiempo told Villa she was on her way to the city of Cucuta from where she was going to take a flight back to Bogota.

Two other journalists remain missing

Two more journalists from the RCN Colombian TV network, correspondent Diego D’Pablos and cameraman Carlos Melo, are still missing in the same region, but Villa said Hernandez told him the ELN was also going to release them in the next few hours.

Catatumbo is an area of nearly 5,000 square kilometers (1,930 square miles) in the Norte de Santander department. Illegal crops are Catatumbo’s economic engine, experts say. In addition to drug traffickers, the ELN, a Marxist guerrilla group, also has heavy presence in the area.

The ELN is the second largest guerrilla group in Colombia after the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Both groups are negotiating a peace agreement with the Colombian government with Cuba mediating.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told reporters in Bogota on Tuesday that he had ordered an army commander and the director of national police to travel to the region to oversee search efforts.

The disappearances of the three journalists, if they were in fact kidnapped, may become an obstacle for peace talks between the Colombian government and two guerrilla groups: the ELN and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Putting a halt to kidnappings was one of the conditions the government set for negotiations.

Journalists from several media demonstrated in Bogotá Wednesday, demanding the immediate liberation of Salud Hernandez.

RCN news director Claudia Gurisatti told CNN en Español on Tuesday that Hernandez is a fierce journalist, covering places to which other journalist wouldn’t dare to travel.

“She’s a woman who has traveled all of the Colombian countryside, its mountains, its landscapes and valleys … as an average citizen would. She doesn’t bring an advance or production team,” Gurisatti said.

Hernandez is also known as a fierce critic of President Santos and Colombia’s peace process.