Two Britons kidnapped by Colombian rebels

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The Independent US

Two British tourists have been kidnapped by leftist rebels in north-eastern Colombia along with six other travellers, authorities said yesterday.

The Britons, four Israelis, a German and a Spaniard were kidnapped late on Friday in the Sierra Nevada mountains, about 460 miles north of the capital, Bogota.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office in London confirmed that the Britons were taken. An spokesman for the Israeli embassy said the embassy had been formally notified by Colombian authorities that its nationals were among those held. The kidnappers are believed to be members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), which has been fighting for nearly four decades to overthrow the government.

A government spokeswoman said the rebels initially took the tourist group's guide, but later released him and he went to the police. The eight were part of a larger group of 15 tourists that had earlier split in two. The others were all safe, the spokeswoman added. Army search teams are scouring the Sierra Nevada for any signs of the hostages, a spokesman for the army's 1st Division said. The area is a disputed territory where drug traffickers, Marxist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries are known to operate.

About 3,000 people are abducted each year in Colombia. Farc, the nation's largest and most brutal rebel group, is blamed for most of the kidnappings. It is currently holding dozens of political prisoners and three American military contractors it wants to trade for rebels in jail. The Americans, Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes, were captured when their plane crash-landed in rebel territory in February. A fourth American, Thomas Janis, and a Colombian army sergeant on board the single-engined Cessna were killed by the rebels.

President Alvaro Uribe, seen as a hardliner, refuses to give in to rebel demands.

But he has said in the past that his government might consider a "humanitarian exchange" of imprisoned guerrillas for hostages who are sick or old. (AP)