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Colombians hunt for captive foreigners
( 2003-09-15 16:23) (Agencies)

Thousands of troops backed by Black Hawk helicopters were headed to the snowcapped mountains of northern Colombia to hunt for eight foreign tourists kidnapped by leftist rebels, authorities said.

The four Israelis, two Britons, a German and a Spaniard were taken late Friday near archaeological ruins high in the Sierra Nevada, about 465 miles north of the capital, Bogota, Gen. Luis Alfredo Rodriguez, head of Colombia's police operations.

President Alvaro Uribe condemned the abductions and vowed to track down the perpetrators.

"The security forces have completely mobilized, including troops and helicopters, to resolve this problem," a somber-looking Uribe told reporters on Sunday.

The kidnappers are believed to be members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which is responsible for most of the 3,000 kidnappings that take place every year in Colombia, Rodriguez told The Associated Press.

Thousands of security forces were readying for deployment in the Sierra Nevada, though thick jungle and high altitudes make search operations difficult, Rodriguez said.

The British Embassy confirmed Sunday that two British men were among those being held and said consular staff were due to travel to the region on Monday. Spokesman Alfonso Morales declined to reveal their names until their families had been notified.

Israeli Ambassador Yair Recanati told local television that he had spoken to several of the hostages' families, "who expressed their profound concern." He said the captured four were on vacation in Colombia and had a keen interest in pre-Colombian Indian ruins.

The FARC kidnaps ordinary Colombians and foreigners for ransom and is holding three U.S. military contractors and dozens of Colombian politicians, police and soldiers whom it wants to exchange for imprisoned rebels.

Earlier, a senior government official said the rebels initially took the tourist group's guide, but later released him. The eight were part of a larger group of 15 tourists that earlier had split in two. The others were all safe, the official added.

The mountains are covered in thick jungles and rise to 19,057 feet above sea level. The tour group was headed to Ciudad Perdida, or Lost City, built by an indigenous civilization centuries ago, several days' hike from the nearest road, Rodriguez said.

FARC rebels, who have been waging a guerrilla war in for 39 years, operate freely in the region, which is widely considered unsafe.

Cardinal Pedro Rubiano, the head of Colombia's Catholic Church, denounced the kidnapping as an affront on peace and justice.

"It is as though the insurgents have slapped the country in the face," he told RCN.

 
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