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Colombian rebels kidnap 8 tourists in 'Lost City'
( 2003-09-15 10:14) (Agencies)

Suspected Marxist rebels on Friday kidnapped eight foreign tourists in Colombia's "Lost City," an ancient ruin on a remote jungle-covered mountain, officials said on Sunday.

About 2,000 troops and police, supported by U.S.-built Black Hawk helicopters, searched the massive Tayrona national park around the snow-topped Sierra Nevada mountain in northeastern Colombia to look for the four Israelis, two Britons, a German and a Spaniard, officials said.

The kidnappers, who let the tourists' guide go free, appear to be members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a Marxist guerrilla army known as FARC which kidnaps hundreds of people a year to pay for its 39-year-old war.

"The security forces are already fully deployed, troops and helicopters," said Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who has tried to convince the U.S. government to lift warnings against traveling to his country.

Rampant kidnapping has devastated the tourist industry in a country rich in natural beauty and cultural attractions.

Israel's Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom spoke to his Colombian counterpart Carolina Barco about the case, Israeli Ambassador Yair Recanati told Reuters.


"I have had the opportunity to speak with a couple of the parents, who are extremely worried," Recanati said.

A British Embassy spokesman said consular staff would travel to the Caribbean city of Santa Marta, near the Sierra Nevada, on Monday.

Only a small percentage of people kidnapped by the FARC are ever rescued and most are only released after paying a ransom. Their victims report forced marches lasting days as they are shuttled between malarial jungle prisons.

The Lost City, known as "Ciudad Perdida" in Spanish, is reached after days of trekking up the Sierra Nevada along jungle paths. Its collection of raised stone platforms, spread over several miles, was only rediscovered in the 1970s and is believed to have been built around 500 BC by the Tayrona Indian people.

Far-right paramilitaries also operate in the Tayrona, protecting its illegal drug crops. But they rarely bother tourists, and recently announced they had "executed" some local men they blamed for the rape and murder of two female Colombian holidaymakers.

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