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Embassy says German hostages in Colombia tourists


Two Germans being held hostage by the leftist ELN guerrilla group in Colombia are tourists, the German embassy said Tuesday after the rebels accused the two of being spies.

"They are retirees who were in the region as tourists," the embassy said in a statement, acknowledging that they were being held against their will.

It said the German foreign ministry had formed "a crisis management team that was in contact with all the relevant parties."

The National Liberation Army (ELN) said the Germans, whom it identified as Uwe Breur and Gunther Otto Breuer, were captured weeks ago in the Catatumbo region of northeastern Colombia near the Venezuelan border.

The rebels described them as "intelligence agents," saying they "have been unable to explain their presence in this region in the weeks since they were detained."

"To date, no group or person has lodged any kind of complaint regarding their disappearance," the ELN noted, adding that "spies are not protected under international humanitarian law."

President Juan Manuel Santos quickly called on the rebels to release the Germans, and held the ELN responsible for their safety.

Santos ridiculed the idea that the men could be spies.

"Who could possibly believe that two Germans were spying here in Colombia?" Santos asked. "That's an excuse that no one in their right mind would accept or understand."

The German embassy in Bogota initially declined to comment "out of respect for the hostages and their families," but in Tuesday's statement confirmed that two Germans were being held.

The ELN, is Colombia's second largest guerrilla group after the better-known Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Founded four decades ago, the ELN has around 2,500 fighters and is active in northeastern Colombia.

Last month the group claimed to have kidnapped six mining company employees, including a Canadian and two Peruvians, in northern Colombia, claiming the move was aimed at defending the region's natural resources.