Bogota: The Colombian government has confirmed that the National Liberation Army (ELN) armed group were holding three journalists, who disappeared in the northeastern region of Catatumbo.

“It can be confirmed with certainty that the ELN is responsible for the disappearances of the three (journalists),” Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said on Thursday.

The minister emphasised the case of Spanish journalist Salud Hernandez, a correspondent for Spain’s El Mundo daily and columnist for the Colombian daily El Tiempo, who was last seen on Saturday in El Tarra, a city in the Catatumbo region.

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Her last message to her work colleagues at the latter paper said that she would be “incommunicado for several hours in that region carrying out (her) duties as a reporter,” Villegas said.

Hernandez’s Colombian colleagues Diego D’Pablos and Carlos Melo disappeared on Monday in the same region in Norte de Santander province as they were covering the case of their missing Spanish colleague, who – according to the government – voluntarily met with the ELN to do a story on the militants.

The minister emphasized that “the ELN has definitively committed a crime in this case”, noting that President Juan Manuel Santos had “warned” the armed group that the agreed-to peace talks with the government will not be able to get under way the rebels “are holding people whose liberty has been curtailed against their will.”

Army and police commanders, Alberto Mejia and Jorge Nieto, “are once again returning to the zone today to continue operations” to search for the journalists, the minister added.