BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — An employee of the United Nations has been kidnapped by a dissident rebel faction in southern Colombia, marring a visit by the U.N. Security Council Thursday to show support for the South American nation's recent peace deal.
President Juan Manuel Santos' administration said that the Colombian national was working on a crop substitution project in the southern state of Guaviare when he was taken captive late Wednesday. Rodrigo Pardo, the president's top aide for post-conflict planning, said the captors are a unit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia who refused to lay down their weapons as part of a peace deal last year.
"These people live thanks to drugs and they want to continue living that way," Pardo said, adding that the incident wouldn't stop the government in its goal of eradicating cocaine crops in areas once dominated by the FARC.
A group of U.N. officials in coordination with Colombian authorities was attempting to negotiate the worker's release.
"Obviously the situation when someone's been kidnapped, the less we say the better," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said when asked about the hostage. "What I will tell you is that we're obviously in touch with the Colombian authorities to help secure the person's release."
Santos met Thursday with ambassadors to the U.N. Security Council who are in the country to demonstrate their commitment to ending a half-century war that has caused more than 220,000 deaths and displaced nearly 6 million people
In January 2016, the Colombian government and the FARC jointly asked the United Nations to monitor any cease-fire and disarmament process — a rare request to the U.N. for help. Currently, some 450 U.N. observers are spread out more than 20 rebel camps nationwide overseeing the laying down of weapons by the guerrillas.
But the process is slow going and has run into logistical hurdles as well as delays by the government in approving and implementing legislation mandated by the peace deal.
FARC leader Ivan Marquez said in an interview this week with Red Mas Noticias that if needed, the two sides would extend the May 31 deadline to complete the demobilization process, adding that the rebels won't begin turning over their arms until the government follows through on its commitment to free hundreds of jailed rebels subject to an amnesty.
British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, who is co-leading the visit, said the U.N. would remain in Colombia as long as it takes to secure peace.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations