Luis Diaz: Colombian rebels who kidnapped Liverpool footballer's dad will free him 'as soon as possible', group says

The father of Liverpool footballer Luis Diaz, who was kidnapped in Colombia, will be freed "as soon as possible", according to a representative of the rebel group holding him.

Luis Manuel Diaz and his wife, Cilenis Marulanda, were snatched by armed men on motorbikes at a petrol station in the town of Barrancas, in La Guajira, near the border with Venezuela, on Saturday.

She was rescued within hours after police set up roadblocks - but the whereabouts of her husband remain unknown.

Earlier on Thursday, the Colombian government said the pair were kidnapped by the guerrilla group, National Liberation Army, also known as the ELN.

Officials are currently in negotiations with the radical left-wing rebels.

Otty Patino, who is leading the peace talks, said: "We demand that the ELN releases immediately Mr Luis Manuel Diaz and we say as of now that they are entirely responsible to secure his life and integrity."

On Tuesday, the 26-year-old Liverpool winger and Colombia international begged his father's captors to release him - as his mother, uncle and other relatives took part in a vigil calling for his release.

He posted an Instagram story with details of the event and the caption: "Bring your candle to light the light of hope - free him now!"

Special forces were deployed to search for Mr Diaz, with air and land patrols trawling a mountain range that straddles both Colombia and Venezuela - as Colombia's police director vowed to use every agent to find him.

But officials said they could not rule out the possibility that he has been smuggled over the border - meaning he will be out of reach of Colombian police.

A reward worth $48,000 (£39,000) has been offered for information that helps police locate Mr Diaz.

It is feared the abduction could jeopardise ongoing peace talks between the ELN and Colombian government, which restarted last year in the hope of ending the group's part in a 60-year conflict, that has claimed the lives of at least 450,000 people.

A six-month ceasefire was agreed in August as part of the talks.

Colombia's interior minister, Luis Fernando Velasco, said the kidnapping was "very serious" and a "violation of the ceasefire" which puts the peace process at risk.

Mr Patino added: "We remind the ELN that kidnapping is criminal, violates international humanitarian law and that its duty in building the peace process is not just to stop kidnapping, but to eliminate it forever."

Security sources say the group funds its activities through kidnapping, extortion and drug trafficking.

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Diaz, who signed for Liverpool last year in a deal worth £55m, has been hailed as one of the most talented players in the Colombian national squad.

He was absent from Liverpool's home game against Nottingham Forest on Sunday, where the Reds won 3-0.

His teammates expressed their solidarity, with Diogo Jota holding up a shirt in support of Diaz.