BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Authorities in Colombia have mounted a massive search and rescue operation for an army general who was apparently taken captive by leftist rebels.
Gen. Ruben Dario Alzate and two civilians were intercepted Sunday afternoon while traveling by motor boat along a remote river in western Colombia to survey an energy project. A fourth soldier managed to flee and reported that the captors were members of the 34th front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
If confirmed, it would be the first time in a half-century of conflict that the rebels have taken captive an army general, Colombian media is reporting. It also comes as frustration with two-year-old peace talks between the rebels and the government is building due to an apparent refusal by the guerrillas to wind down attacks in areas where they remain dominant.
President Juan Manuel Santos immediately ordered the top military commander and his defense minister to travel to the western capital of Quibdo to oversee the rescue operation. He also is demanding to know why one of Colombia's most-distinguished soldiers apparently violated military protocol and set off the on the river journey dressed as a civilian.
"Let it be clear to the entire country: when a kidnapping occurs the only ones responsible are the kidnappers, in this case the FARC terrorists," Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said late Sunday night. He added that the government had also contacted the International Red Cross to facilitate an eventual release of the captives.
The U.S.-educated Alzate took over as commander this year of the newly established Titan Task Force, a 2,500-man fighting force comprised of army and marine personnel sent to combat the rebels and drug-traffickers in the remote, water-logged jungles surrounding Quibdo.