Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia Farc: Huge search for abducted general

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (R) attends a meeting accompanied by Defence Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon and head military commanders in Choco, November 16, 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption President Juan Manuel Santos (R), sent his defence minister, Juan Carlos Pinzon (LC) to lead the investigation.

The Colombian authorities have begun a huge search operation to find a general abducted by left-wing Farc rebels on Sunday.

The abduction of Ruben Dario Alzate marks the first time in 50 years of conflict that a general has been taken.

President Juan Manuel Santos has suspended the next round of the peace talks which have been taking place in Havana for the past two years.

He sent his defence minister to the region where the general was taken.

The president demanded that the kidnappers free Brig Gen Alzate "safe and sound".

During the peace talks, the Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the government did not declare a ceasefire.

Explanation demand

Brig Gen Alzate was travelling along the Atrato river in the northern province of Choco by boat.

He stopped at a village called Las Mercedes, about 15km (10 miles) from the provincial capital Quibdo to talk to the local community.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Questions are being asked about Gen Alzate Mora's presence in the area

Rebels thought to belong to the 34th division of the Farc met him there, reports say.

The rebels searched him and took him and two other people - lawyer Gloria Urrego and Corporal Jorge Rodriguez Contreras - captive, the army says.

A spokesman for the Farc in Havana declined to comment, saying the rebels' negotiators were still investigating the incident. ‎

‎‎Writing on Twitter, President Santos also demanded an explanation from Defence Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon as to what Brig Gen Alzate was doing in an area of high rebel activity dressed in civilian clothes. ‎

‎More than two years ago, the Farc announced they would stop their policy of kidnapping people in order to show their good will ahead of peace negotiations.

But after seizing two soldiers recently in the eastern province of Arauca they clarified that that policy applied only to civilians, not to military targets.

An estimated 220,000 people have died in five decades of armed conflict in Colombia. ‎

President Santos was re-elected on a promise of driving the peace process forward but Colombians are getting increasingly impatient with the slow pace of progress at the peace talks.

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