Colombia's ELN rebels release kidnapped mayor

Picture taken from a video posted on the National Liberation Front (ELN) website "Portal Voces de Colombia" shows members of the ELN during their V Congress held last December (AFP Photo/)

Bogota (AFP) - Colombia's ELN guerrillas have released a mayor they kidnapped in December amid preliminary talks between the rebels and government on opening a peace process, officials said Sunday.

The release of Fredys Palacios, the mayor of the western town of Alto Baudo, was first reported by the army early Sunday. The mayor later confirmed to a local radio station that he was free.

"I was released to the community," the mayor told Caracol Radio, noting that he had been released the previous evening.

The National Liberation Army (ELN), the second-largest leftist rebel group in conflict-torn Colombia, had unilaterally decided to free Palacios, a military source told AFP.

"It was an ELN decision, with no military pressure or anything. They just released him in the forest," the source said.

"According to the information we've received, he's in good health and was picked up by the police."

Palacios was kidnapped on December 16 while traveling by boat up a river in Choco department, an impoverished, jungle-covered region where Alto Baudo is located.

The ELN had accused the mayor of corruption.

The government and the ELN have been holding preliminary talks on opening a peace process similar to the two-year-old negotiations involving the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's largest rebel group.

Both guerrilla groups were founded in the 1960s in rural Colombia.

The conflict, which has at times drawn in drug traffickers and right-wing paramilitaries, has killed 220,000 people and uprooted more than five million during the past five decades.