Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia kidnap: Farc defends general's abduction

Colombian Defence Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon meets with the Army's High Command in Quibdo in Colombia on 17 November 2014. Image copyright AFP/GETTY
Image caption A huge search operation is under way to find the three

Farc rebels in Colombia have defended the kidnapping of a general and his two companions during peace negotiations.

In a statement, the left-wing group said they had been captured because "they were military personnel" who were moving "in a war zone".

The kidnapping of Ruben Dario Alzate is the first abduction of a general in 50 years of conflict.

President Juan Manuel Santos suspended the peace talks on Sunday, after two years of negotiations in Havana.

The president demanded that the kidnappers should free Brig Gen Alzate "safe and sound" before they could resume.

Farc peace negotiator Pablo Catatumbo said the group was willing to contribute to a speedy and sensible resolution to the problem.

The spokesman did not set conditions for the general's release, but said a bilateral ceasefire would create a positive climate for any resumption of talks.

Farc's statement criticised the government, saying that "even in the middle of a peace process", government forces had "the right to kill and tear apart" Farc forces without them having the right to respond.

It said the Farc's Secretariat would decide what to do with the prisoners.

Image copyright AFP/GETTY
Image caption Farc peace negotiator Pablo Catatumbo said the abduction showed a ceasefire was needed

Mr Catatumbo said that "communication with the Colombian government and the Farc Secretariat" would have to be established in order to discuss a ceasefire.

President Santos had made it clear from the beginning of the peace talks that military operations against Farc would continue until a final deal had been reached.

The rebels' decision to continue negotiations even after government forces killed the rebel leader who started the negotiations, Alfonso Cano, in November 2011, has been regarded up to now as proof of their willingness to secure a deal.

Farc had also announced that they would stop abducting people two years ago.

But there were concerns their resolve was breaking after they seized two soldiers in November, in the eastern province of Arauca.

However, the rebels argued this policy applied only to civilians, not to military targets.

Search operation

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

The rebels caught up with him when 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

They took the general and two other people - lawyer Gloria Urrego and Corporal Jorge Rodriguez Contreras - captive.

‎‎President Santos has 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.

The military are scouring the region to find the three captives. ‎

‎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.

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

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