Colombian ELN rebels say they seized two foreigners

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Rebels in Colombia say they have kidnapped two foreigners in the north of the country.

The smaller of Colombia's two left-wing rebel groups, the ELN, said it had seized the two men, who it thinks are Germans, near the Venezuelan border.

While Colombia's largest rebel group, the Farc, is holding peace talks with the government, the ELN is continuing its left-wing insurgency.

The ELN is also holding five mining company workers it captured last month.

'Intelligence agents'

In its statement, the ELN (National Liberation Army) says it seized the two men in the northern Catatumbo region, in Santander province. It did not say how long ago the men were captured.

"In the weeks they have been held, they have not been able to justify their presence in the area, and we therefore consider them intelligence agents and will investigate them further," the ELN statement said.

"Spies are not protected by the international human rights convention," the statement concludes.

The German Embassy has not commented on the statement.

On 18 January, the ELN kidnapped five employees of a mining firm, two of them Peruvians, a Canadian and two Colombians.

While the security forces have made a number of arrests in that case, the five have not yet been freed.

The ELN was formed in 1965, inspired by the Cuban revolution and Marxist ideology.

It has been seen as the more politically motivated of the two rebel groups in Colombia, but has over the past years increasingly resorted to drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping for ransom to finance its insurgency.

The group says it is interested in engaging in peace talks with the government, but has refused to stop its attacks on civilian and military targets before any negotiations would start.

The government said it would not enter negotiations unless the ELN was willing to show "acts of peace" rather than just words.

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