BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has suspended peace talks with the South American nation's largest rebel group after an army general was taken captive.
Gen. Ruben Dario Alzate was surveying a rural energy project along a remote river in western Colombia Sunday when he and two others were snatched by armed men. A soldier managed to flee in the group's motor boat and reported that the captors were members of the 34th front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
Colombian media reported that it's the first time in a half-century of fighting that the guerrillas have taken an army general captive.
Calling the apparent abduction "totally unacceptable," Santos said he had ordered government peace negotiators set to travel Monday to Cuba for the next round of talks to stay back until Alzate and the others -- an army captain and a government lawyer -- are freed.
"The FARC is responsible for the life and safety of these three people," Santos told journalists after midnight following a meeting with his top military commanders, all of whom are heading to the western capital of Quibdo to oversee rescue efforts.
The surprise abduction comes as frustration with two-year-old peace talks is building due to slow progress and the apparent refusal by the guerrillas to wind down attacks in areas where they remain dominant. Just in the past few days, the FARC has taken captive two soldiers following intense fighting in northeast Colombia and is accused of killing two members of an indigenous tribe who confronted rebels hanging up pro-FARC banners.
The FARC considers captured military personnel prisoners of war, but such explanations ring hollow to the vast majority of Colombians tired of political violence.
While Santos is laying blame on the FARC for the general's disappearance, he's also demanding to know why one of Colombia's most distinguished soldiers apparently violated military protocol and set off the on the river journey dressed as a civilian and without his bodyguards.
In addition to mounting a massive search, the government has also contacted the international Red Cross to facilitate an eventual release of the captives.
The U.S.-educated Alzate took over as commander this year of the newly established Titan Task Force, a 2,500-man fighting force comprised of army and marine personnel sent to combat the rebels and drug-traffickers in the remote, water-logged jungles surrounding Quibdo.