The Colombian government suspended peace talks with FARC rebels on Sunday after the alleged kidnapping of an army general in the western department of Choco.
According to Caracol Radio and Semana, General Ruben Dario Alzate and two others were abducted by armed men along a remote river in Choco. Hours after the incident, a massive search and rescue operation was organized in the area, but so far there have been no signs of the three.
Yesterday evening President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed that the FARC were behind Alzate’s abduction, and announced that plans for the official negotiating team to travel to Havana on Monday for the latest round of talks had been canceled. Dialogue with the rebels, the president said, would be suspended “until this is cleared up and these people are freed.” As RCN reports, Santos said he held the FARC directly responsible for the safety of the three hostages.
If the reports of FARC involvement are true, Alzate’s capture amounts to a valuable find for the guerrilla group. Local and international media have reported that this incident amounts to the first time in 50 years of conflict that the guerrillas have managed to take a general prisoner.
Yet the story is also interesting for other reasons, like the unanswered questions about what the general was doing in the area where he was captured. Local press reports claim that Alzate was surveying an energy project in a rural community while he was intercepted, but it is unclear whether he was conducting this work in any official capacity. As the head of all military operations in the area, it was highly unusual for the general to be traveling in a dangerous area with such light security, as El Tiempo notes.
In a Twitter message yesterday, President Santos himself voiced doubts about Alzate’s activities, asking the Defense Ministry to explain “why Gen. Alzate broke all the security protocols and was dressed in civilian clothes in a red zone.”
Colombia conflict analyst Virginia Bouvier, in a characteristically astute analysis of the incident, writes that Santos would be unwise to allow this one incident to derail the peace talks, and “would do well to remember that there are saboteurs on all sides.” The Colombian government, after all, has had to confront its share of attacks on the peace process as well, as repeated allegations of military interference demonstrate.
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