HAVANA (Reuters) - Colombia's FARC rebels on Wednesday denied accusations that they were holding two Spanish tourists who authorities say were kidnapped in the South American country last week.
Spanish news reports said the kidnappers identified themselves as members of the Marxist-led guerrilla group when they contacted the family of the victims to demand a ransom.
"We categorically reject this new absurdity of accusing the FARC of actions of common crime," Andres Paris, a senior rebel leader, said in Havana, where the FARC and Colombian government are trying to negotiate to end their five-decade-long conflict.
He said an order by the group's top leaders to take no hostages was being followed "in all of the national territory."
The FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, have a history of kidnapping to raise money for their struggle against the government, but rebel leaders ordered a halt to the practice in February 2012 to encourage the peace process.
It is not unusual for criminals to claim they are committing crimes in the group's name.
Spanish and Colombian officials said Spaniards Angel Sanchez Fernandez, 49, and Maria Concepcion Marlaska, 43, were abducted while traveling in La Guajira province, which juts into the Caribbean Sea at the country's northern tip and partially borders with northwestern Venezuela.
The FARC and Colombian government began talks on November 19 in Havana trying to end a war that began with the FARC's formation in 1964 as a communist agrarian reform group.
Tens of thousands of people have died and millions have been displaced in Latin America's longest running rebel insurgency.
The two sides have said they are close to an agreement on a proposal to distribute land to poor farmers and encourage rural development, the first point on their five-point agenda.
(Reporting By Nelson Acosta and Jeff Franks; Editing by Tom Brown)