Valledupar: Colombia's ELN guerrilla group on Thursday freed the father of Liverpool footballer Luis Diaz, ending a 12-day ordeal by handing the kidnapped man over to a humanitarian mission.
Luis Manuel Diaz arrived by helicopter in the northeastern city of Valledupar, some 90 kilometers (56 miles) from his hometown of Barrancas where he was abducted October 28.
The Bishops Conference of Colombia, involved in negotiating the handover, released a photograph of Diaz in a wooded area with a woman taking his vital signs.
"Long live Freedom and Peace," President Gustavo Petro wrote on X, formerly Twitter, after the release, broadcast live on TV.
The 26-year-old winger's father and mother Cilenis Marulanda were abducted by armed men on motorcycles at a gas station in their home town.
Marulanda was rescued hours later and a massive search operation by ground and air was launched for her husband, with more than 250 soldiers involved.
The Army withdrew its troops Monday under conditions imposed by the ELN for Diaz's safe release.
The ELN, which is in peace negotiations with Petro's government that entails a six-month ceasefire that entered into force in August, has described the kidnapping by one of its units a "mistake."
On Sunday, Diaz begged the ELN to free his father.
"I ask the ELN for the prompt release of my father, and I ask international organizations to intercede for his freedom," Diaz said on X.
"Every second, every minute our anguish grows," the young footballer added.
Liverpool welcomed the release, saying on X, the former Twitter: "We are delighted by the news of @LuisFDiaz19 's father's safe return and we thank all those involved in securing his release."
The abduction threatened to derail high-stakes peace negotiations between the rebel group and the government.
Petro, a former urban guerrilla himself, took office last August with the stated goal of achieving "total peace" in a country ravaged by decades of fighting between the security forces, leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and drug gangs.
The president said last week the kidnapping had broken the "trust" between the parties.
Luis Manuel Diaz - aged 56 according to local media - was an amateur coach at the only football academy in Barrancas, a town near the Venezuelan border, where his son showed promise from a very young age.
At the school, which he founded 30 years ago, dozens of children gathered Wednesday with white balloons honor of the man known locally simply as "Mane."
"They are sad but at the same time expectant of the speedy return of teacher Mane to freedom," coach Jesus Manuel Galindo told reporters.
Manuel Diaz is credited with aiding the meteoric rise of the Liverpool and Colombia striker known as Lucho.
Acquaintances have told AFP that he sometimes sold food he cooked himself to pay for his son's trips to Barranquilla, the city where he had his debut with the football club Junior.
The younger Diaz has played for his country 43 times and arrived at Liverpool last year from Portuguese club Porto.
He is the first Indigenous Colombian to make it to world football's top echelons.
On Sunday, he saved Liverpool from a shock defeat at Luton, scoring a header that resulted in a 1-1 draw.
More than 38,000 people have been kidnapped in Colombia over the years, mainly by groups raising funds with ransom money.