BOGOTA, Colombia – Marxist rebels have abducted up to 10 tourists celebrating Christmas at a lakeside spa in northwestern Colombia (search), officials said.
Fighters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (search), or FARC, raided a cluster of bungalows late Friday near San Rafael, 230 kilometers (140 miles) northwest of Bogota, and herded between 8 to 10 vacationers into vehicles, Jorge Mejia, deputy governor of Antioquia state, told The Associated Press.
"Unfortunately, witnesses did not report the kidnapping to authorities until late today, so the guerrillas have had plenty of time to reach their hideouts deep in the mountains," Mejia said Saturday.
He said army troops and counterinsurgency police forces, supported by helicopters, have launched a large-scale search and rescue operation.
"This is a criminal action, in no way justifiable. The victims were middle-class families enjoying a Christmas break," Mejia said. He said the FARC probably seized the group for ransom.
The abductions came despite the deployment of more than 100,000 security forces to safeguard highways and popular tourist spots during the busy holiday season.
A security crackdown ordered by President Alvaro Uribe (search) has sharply reduced the number of kidnappings and killings in the past two years, making Colombians feel it was safe to venture into what used to be effectively no-go areas.
"It's a specially hard blow because San Rafael had been very peaceful recently," Mejia said.
The FARC kidnaps hundreds of people every year, mainly for ransom, to help fund its 40-year-old war to topple the government and establish a Marxist state in Colombia. The conflict involving leftist guerrillas, government troops and right-wing paramilitary militias kills more than 3,000 people every year.