Abducted Colombia governor found dead

Caqueta state Gov. Luis Francisco Cuellar was found dead Tuesday, Colombian authorities said, less than a day after he was abducted from his home by suspected leftist guerrillas.

Cuellar’s body was found near Florencia, the state capital where he lived, authorities said.

President Alvaro Uribe later said on national television that Cuellar’s throat had been cut as the assailants fled from security forces. His body was found by a rural road, said Uribe, who promised to press the fight against rebel violence.

“In the midst of pain we reiterate today all our determination to defeat these terrorists,” he said.

After learning that Cuellar had been abducted from his home late Monday, Uribe ordered Colombian armed forces Tuesday to search the jungles of Caqueta for the governor.

The kidnapping was the first in several years of a politician of Cuellar’s stature. His abduction and slaying present a challenge to Uribe’s get-tough campaign against the rebels, which has produced dramatic declines in violence and kidnappings since he took office in 2002.

Ten assailants, dressed in army uniforms and identified by the government as members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, seized a pajama-clad Cuellar, 69, in his residence. The attackers killed one police guard, wounded two and exploded a grenade to gain entry.

The governor, who previously was a mayor and a congressman, had received threats and asked for more protection, said his personal secretary, Edilberto Ramon Endo. Cuellar had been kidnapped on four previous occasions, Endo added.

In comments to reporters before Cuellar’s body was found, Uribe said he had sent Defense Minister Gabriel Silva Lujan, armed forces chief Gen. Freddy Padilla and National Police commander Gen. Oscar Naranjo to supervise the effort to rescue the governor, who had appeared Saturday with Uribe at a community meeting in Florencia.

“This causes us much pain, anxiety and desperation,” Uribe told reporters Tuesday morning. “We’ve been trying all night to get soldiers out to the routes where they have presumably taken the governor, so we can seal them off.”

Silva Lujan had offered a $500,000 reward for information leading to Cuellar’s rescue.

Although security has improved in urban areas, the rebels are still capable of pulling off attacks and abductions, particularly in jungle areas such as Caqueta in southern Colombia, where they can hide easily.

The rebels may be reeling from government pressure but maintain operational viability from drug trafficking and ransoms. The FARC is believed to be holding hundreds of hostages, including 24 soldiers and police officers whom it has offered to exchange for rebel prisoners held by the government.

“Who kidnapped him? The bandits who want to make a show of freeing the other hostages. The same ones who make fools of the entire country, who seek international support to try to validate terrorism in Colombia,” said Uribe, whose father was killed in 1983 by captors, believed to be with the FARC.

There were reports Tuesday of clashes between armed forces and suspected guerrillas. Florencia is within 15 miles of one of Colombia’s largest military bases, Ft. Larandia, where several rapid-deployment special-forces units are headquartered

Tensions in the region have been high, with Colombia charging that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is giving safe haven to the FARC. Chavez in turn has threatened war over Uribe’s giving permission to the Pentagon to use up to seven Colombian bases for counter-narcotics and anti-terrorism overflights and intelligence gathering.

Earlier in the decade, the FARC pulled off the kidnappings of several high-profile politicians, including members of the Colombian Congress and a presidential candidate. The rebels seized 12 members of the Valle del Cauca state assembly in April 2002 and killed 11 of them in June 2007.

In recent years, the government has foiled FARC plots against other officials, including Silva Lujan’s predecessor as defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos. In May, the rebels succeeded in kidnapping a city councilman in Garzon in the mountainous southern state of Huila after killing four guards.

Kraul is a special correspondent.