Kidnappers release girl, 10

2011-10-18 08:12

Bogota - Kidnappers in Colombia released the 10-year-old daughter of a mayor in eastern Arauca province whose abduction 18 days earlier generated extraordinary indignation in a country accustomed to political violence.

"We are celebrating the freedom of Nohora Valentina (Munoz)," President Juan Manuel Santos said in a statement on Monday night. "We thank the International Committee of the Red Cross for its efforts" in mediating her release.

No details, such as whether a ransom was paid or who kidnapped her, were immediately available. The leftist guerrilla groups FARC and ELN denied kidnapping the girl and condemned the abduction.

She was released near the Venezuelan border and was not yet reunited with her family as of Monday afternoon, El Espectador newspaper reported.

"We are happy for the news and are hoping for confirmation that she is free," Jorge Enrique Munoz, mayor of the town of Fortul, told the paper. "It will be real when my daughter is here."

The girl was abducted on her way to school on September 29 along with her mother, who was released that morning.

The case played out publicly, with the mother pleading for her release and her father asking for proof the girl was still alive. Santos condemned her kidnapping and classmates staged protest marches.

More than 1 800 police and military personnel launched at least 10 operations searching for the girl, El Tiempo reported. The military then retreated at the request of the Red Cross so it could mediate a resolution, local media said.

The kidnapping took place amid increased violence ahead of local elections set for October 30 when Colombians will elect governors, mayors and town councils nationwide.

At least 36 candidates have been killed during the campaign, in addition to 13 activists, according to the independent Electoral Observation Mission.

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