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Colombian Rebels Confirm General's Capture

  • VOA News

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, center, speaks during a news conference in Bogota, Nov. 16, 2014.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, center, speaks during a news conference in Bogota, Nov. 16, 2014.

Colombia's FARC rebels have confirmed they kidnapped a general and two of his travel companions Sunday.

Claiming responsibility for the abduction, FARC negotiators in Cuba called Tuesday for a bilateral ceasefire, saying that would avoid other such "incidents."

"While there is no ceasefire pact, these things will continue to happen," said Pablo Catatumbo, speaking on behalf of the guerrillas.

The kidnapping of General Ruben Alzate has threatened to derail the Colombian government's efforts to reach a peace deal with the FARC, known in full as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. A fourth attempt to negotiate an end to the 50-year conflict began in 2012.

The United States, which has long supported Colombia's pursuit of peace, condemned the kidnapping Tuesday. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters the U.S. response takes into account in particular the "ongoing peace efforts by the Colombian government."

Colombian negotiators had been preparing to fly to Havana to take part in a new round of talks with members of the FARC, but Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos canceled the trip hours after the kidnapping.

Rathke declined to give the U.S. take on the suspension of talks.

"I am not going to characterize the Colombian government's reaction," Rathke said. "We certainly condemn the kidnapping, especially because of the efforts the Colombian government had been making."

The abduction happened in a rural part of western Colombia, where General Alzate had arrived by boat to inspect a civilian energy project. The general reportedly broke protocol by traveling in a civilian capacity and without bodyguards. He was captured along with another military official and a civilian lawyer. A soldier piloting the boat managed to escape and inform authorities.

President Santos said troops have gone into the area to search for Alzate and the other hostages. He said he also contacted the International Red Cross to help secure their release.

FARC, Colombia's largest rebel group, has kidnapped scores of civilians and soldiers for ransom during its 50-year insurgency against the government. The group pledged in 2012 to stop kidnapping civilians, but said it would still target police and military personnel.

FARC kidnapped two other Colombian soldiers just last week, but General Alzate is the highest-ranking military officer to be kidnapped in the five-decade war.

Some information for this report comes from AP, AFP and Reuters.

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