Colombia’s FARC guerrillas confirmed on Tuesday that they are holding a missing general whose kidnapping caused the government to suspend peace talks aimed at ending the country’s 50-year-old conflict.
In a statement datelined from the Colombian mountains and published on the FARC Web site, the leftist rebels’ Ivan Rios unit said it had captured General Ruben Alzate, Corporal Jorge Rodriguez and army adviser Gloria Urrego, who disappeared on Sunday in the remote region of Choco.
“Once they were clearly identified, despite wearing civilian clothes, the three were captured by our units on the grounds that they are enemy military personnel, traveling in their official capacity, in an area of war operations,” the statement said.
The guerrillas pledged to “respect [the hostages’] lives and physical and mental well-being.”
Alzate, who heads an army task force charged with fighting rebels and drug traffickers in the jungle-covered Choco region, is the highest-ranking officer to be captured by the FARC in five decades of conflict.
Officials say the general was traveling by boat to visit a civilian energy project when he was ambushed.
His captors said they would respect FARC leaders’ orders on what to do with their hostages.
The kidnapping has thrown the peace process into crisis as it prepared to mark its two-year anniversary yesterday.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has made the peace talks the centerpiece of his government over fierce opposition from critics, said on Monday that the future of the negotiations hung in the balance.
“The FARC’s commitment is at stake here,” he said. “How they decide to act now will determine whether we can continue moving forward.”
FARC negotiators in Havana, where the talks were due to resume on Tuesday before Santos suspended them, initially denied any knowledge of the general’s whereabouts.
However, after FARC fighters confirmed they were holding him, rebel commander Pablo Catatumbo, a member of the negotiating team, acknowledged the kidnapping and offered to help secure the captives’ release.
He blamed the incident on the fact that the government has pursued peace talks without a ceasefire, which Santos has argued would strengthen the guerrillas’ hand.
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