BOGOTA – Four foreigners, including three Chinese oil workers, were kidnapped by suspected members of the FARC guerrilla group in Caqueta, a province in southern Colombia, police said.
The four men, who work for Emerald Energy, were abducted while driving from San Vicente del Caguan to Los Pozos, police told Efe.
The kidnapping was staged by the Teofilo Forero unit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Caqueta Government Secretary Edilberto Ramon Endo told reporters.
The Chinese oil workers were identified by Caqueta officials as Zhau Hong, Yang Jing and Tang Guo Fu, the El Tiempo newspaper reported on its Web site.
The fourth kidnapping victim worked as an interpreter for the Chinese, but he has not been identified.
The FARC kidnapped 23 Colombians working as subcontractors for Canada’s Talisman Energy in March in Vichada, a province on the border with Venezuela.
Twenty-two of the workers were released a few days later as the army closed in on the guerrilla unit that abducted them.
The FARC, Colombia’s oldest and largest leftist guerrilla group, was founded in 1964, has an estimated 8,000 fighters and operates across a large swath of this Andean nation.
The Colombian government has made fighting the FARC a top priority and has obtained billions in U.S. aid for counterinsurgency operations.
The FARC, whose leader is Alfonso Cano, has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years.
The FARC’s military chief, Jorge Briceño Suarez, known as “Mono Jojoy,” was killed in an airstrike on Sept. 23.
On July 2, 2008, the Colombian army rescued former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, U.S. military contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, and 11 other Colombian police officers and soldiers.
The FARC had been trying to trade the 15 captives, along with 25 other “exchangeables,” for hundreds of jailed guerrillas.
The rebels’ most valuable bargaining chip was Betancourt, a dual Colombian-French citizen the FARC seized in February 2002 whose plight became a cause celebre in Europe.
The guerrilla group is believed to still be holding some 700 hostages.
FARC founder Manuel Marulanda, who was known as “Sureshot,” died on March 26, 2008.
Three weeks earlier, Colombian forces staged a cross-border raid into Ecuador, killing FARC second-in-command Raul Reyes and setting off a regional diplomatic crisis.
Ivan Rios, a high-level FARC commander, was killed that same month by one of his own men, who cut off the guerrilla leader’s hand and presented it to army troops, along with identification documents, as proof that the rebel chief was dead.
A succession of governments have battled Colombia’s leftist insurgent groups since the mid-1960s.
In 1999, then-President Andres Pastrana allowed the creation of a Switzerland-sized “neutral” zone in the jungles of southern Colombia for peace talks with the FARC.
After several years of fitful and ultimately fruitless negotiations, Pastrana ordered the armed forces to retake the region in early 2002. But while the arrangement lasted, the FARC enjoyed free rein within the zone.
The FARC is on both the U.S. and EU lists of terrorist groups. Drug trafficking, extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom are the FARC’s main means of financing its operations. EFE