Colombia's largest rebel group acknowledged Tuesday that it had kidnapped a general over the weekend but gave no indication of whether he would be released, a condition announced a day earlier by President Juan Manuel Santos for the resumption of peace talks.
The statement by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and comments at a brief news conference by rebel negotiators in Havana, where peace talks have been held, gave little hope that the crisis between the rebels and the government would be resolved soon.
Gen. Ruben Dario Alzate was captured Sunday in remote Choco state during a visit to a community energy project along with another officer and a civilian attorney. He was in plain clothes and without his customary military escort. Later that day, Santos suspended peace talks, saying they would not restart until Alzate was released.
In its statement Tuesday, the FARC said Alazate was captured while in "active service" in his function as commander of a joint task force operating in the state. The general has "overdue bills with popular justice," the statement said.
It also said the Colombian government was applying a double standard in continuing to conduct military operations against the rebels without conceding "the least right to respond to its violence." The government has refused the FARC's demand for a bilateral cease-fire, often referring to the last round of abortive peace talks, from 1999 to 2002, when the rebels used a temporary cessation of the conflict to improve their military condition.
At the news conference in Havana, FARC negotiator Pablo Catatumbo expressed willingness to resume peace talks and find "an exit from the impasse," but he defended the general's abduction as "something normal in a war."
University of Miami professor and Colombia specialist Bruce Bagley said the kidnapping and suspension have created a "dual crisis of major proportions" for Santos, who has staked his presidency on a peace accord to end 50 years of fighting.
"On the one hand, Alzate is the highest-ranking Colombian military officer ever captured by the FARC in its 50-year-long war with the Colombian government," Bagley said. "His detention forces President Santos to deal with the potential human tragedy that he and his two co-prisoners of war represent."
"On the other, the FARC's actions have led to a suspension of the 2-year-old peace negotiations with the government, undermined public confidence in a final peace deal and threatened to permanently derail any hope for a peace settlement," Bagley said.
In a speech to the nation Monday night, Santos said he had asked the governments of Norway and Venezuela , which are official "facilitators" of the peace talks, to assist in resolving the standoff. There was no immediate official reaction Tuesday to the FARC statement.