May 10 (UPI) -- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said eight people believed to have been taken hostage by the National Liberation Army, or ELN, rebel group have been freed.
The Colombian army said armed men forced the kidnap victims, who local media said are young, onto a boat on Sunday and took them deep into the jungle of Colombia's Chocó department. In response, Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas sent 500 reinforcement troops to Chocó on Monday.
Santos said pressure from the Colombian armed forces led the kidnappers to release the hostages.
"By pressure from the public force, the eight hostages were released in Nóvita, Chocó. They are already in the hands of our troops," Santos said in a statement on Tuesday.
The ELN, like the FARC rebel group, began as a Marxist-inspired insurgency in the 1960s. It was never as large or as powerful as FARC, but like FARC, its members engaged in drug-trafficking, kidnapping and other illegal activity to fund their campaign against the government.
There are an estimated 2,500 ELN rebels living mostly in Colombia's rural, mountainous areas. More than 220,000 people have died and about 5 million have been internally displaced due to the Colombian conflict, which is primarily attributed to FARC since its founding in 1964.
The FARC rebel group struck a peace deal with the Colombian government. The ELN is taking part in negotiations with the Colombian government to reach a similar deal.
Juan Camilo Restrepo, Santos' chief peace negotiator, is in the process of attempting to create a peace deal in Quito, Ecuador with the ELN.
"The clumsiness of the ELN's western front in Chocó, kidnapping and delinquiting, greatly hinders negotiations in Quito," Camilo Restrepo said in a statement on Monday.