COLOMBIAN President Juan Manuel Santos suspended peace talks with national liberation fighters Farc yesterday following the capture of an army general on Sunday.
General Ruben Dario Alzate was allegedly surveying a rural energy project along a remote river in western Colombia when he and two others were snatched by armed men.
One soldier managed to flee in the group’s motor boat and claimed the captors were members of the 34th front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).
Colombian media reported that it was the first time in a half-century of fighting that the guerillas had taken an army general captive.
Calling the apparent abduction “totally unacceptable,” Mr Santos said that he had pulled back government peace negotiators.
A team of diplomats had been set to travel to Cuba for the next round of talks yesterday but were ordered to stay back until General Alzate and the others — an army captain and a government lawyer — were freed.
“Farc is responsible for the life and safety of these three people,” Mr Santos told journalists after midnight following a meeting with his top military commanders, all of whom were heading to the western capital of Quibdo to oversee rescue efforts.
The surprise abduction comes following a period of stagnating progress in Havana, with both sides accusing the other of failing to follow peace accords and the Santos government repeatedly rejecting overtures for a ceasefire.
In the past few days, Farc has taken captive two soldiers following intense fighting in the country’s north-east, while ministers accuse Farc of killing two members of an indigenous tribe, which the rebel group denies.
President Santos is laying the blame on Farc for the general’s disappearance. But he had no comment on why one of Colombia’s most distinguished soldiers apparently violated military protocol and set off on the river dressed as a civilian and without body-guards.
The government has also contacted the International Red Cross to facilitate the captives’ release.
The US-educated Gen Alzate took over as commander of the newly established Titan Task Force this year.
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