Colombian rebels denied Tuesday any involvement in this weekend's kidnap of eight foreigners, as thousands of soldiers searched for the tourists in a jungle area of the northern Colombian mountains.
In a message on its Web site, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said it had no part in abducting the eight -- four Israelis, two Britons, one German and one Spaniard -- from a group of hikers in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains.
The FARC instead blamed Colombian military intelligence for staging the abduction, which they will later successfully resolve to produce results for President Alvaro Uribe, the group said in a statement posted to the Web site.
"Operations of state terrorism against the hikers in the Sierra Nevada, and civilians from around the country, are carried out by Colombian military intelligence with the objective of showing results to Mr. Alvaro Uribe Velez, via a simulated rescue ... of the eight foreigners, dead or alive," it said.
The message said Uribe was trying to get attention away from himself after a group of human rights advocates recently slammed his policies as being too hardline and having exacerbated Colombia's conflict.
While Colombian authorities did not specify which unit of FARC may have been involved in the kidnap, it said that the guerrillas' 19th and 59th fronts have camps in the Caribbean region.
Five other foreigners -- two Israelis, two Australians and a Dutch tourist -- left behind by the kidnappers said rebels did not take them because they did not have the proper walking shoes.
The five returned to the city of Santa Marta where they informed authorities of the abductions of their friends.
Army helicopters and low-flying Air Force planes took to the skies over the Sierra Nevada searching for any sign of the hostages, while some 2,000 soldiers from the army's First Division advanced by land.
The search is centered on a 383,000-hectare nature reserve, where the two FARC units are believed to have camps.
The First Division chief and the man in charge of the operation, General Leonel Gomez, said the operation could last several weeks. "This is not easy terrain," Gomez said.
Interior Minister Fernando Londono told reporters that the rescue operation was taking place amid "professional secrecy and prudence."
The FARC has 800 civilians captive, some of them held for up to six years, as well as 47 army officers and three US nationals taken on Feb. 13 when their plane crashed in southern Colombia.
The rebels want to swap the Americans, 39 officers, and 21 blue-chip politicians -- including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt -- for 300 jailed rebels.