Colombian rebels seek 'solution' to kidnap of tourists

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The Independent US

The rebel National Liberation Army claimed responsibility yesterday for kidnapping eight foreign backpackers from an archaeological site in northern Colombia.

The group, known as the ELN, did not make any demands in its statement and said it was open to negotiations "to find a solution". But with hundreds of Colombian troops searching for the tourists, the group warned that President Alvaro Uribe would be to blame if the hostages were harmed. "In the case of lamentable acts that could occur because of the presence, or the actions, of the army and paramilitary groups in the area, President Uribe would be held personally responsible," the ELN said.

Military commanders have said they will mount a rescue operation if the hostages are tracked down by the helicopter-borne military search teams.

The backpackers - four Israelis, two Britons, a German and a Spaniard - were taken at gunpoint from the Lost City ruins in the Sierra Nevada mountains on 12 September. One of the Britons, Matthew Scott, 19, from Clapham, south London, escaped within days of being taken and has been reunited with his family. The other Briton, Mark Henderson, a television producer from North Yorkshire, remains a hostage.

There was no immediate official reaction to the rebel statement, but the Rev Dario Echeverri, a Catholic Church leader who has promoted peace efforts in the past, said the communiqué raised hopes for a quick release. "They are expressing their will to find a way out," Mr Echeverri said.

The rebels said the kidnap was timed to mark the 30th anniversary of the coup in Chile that overthrew the government of President Salvador Allende, a Marxist. They claimed the "ultra-right forces" who killed Allende were still in power, represented in part by leaders of the hostages' home countries