Colombian senator kidnapped by suspected leftist rebels

BOGOTA, Colombia, AP

Leftist guerrillas kidnapped a leading Colombian senator after luring him into the mountains by promising they would return a stolen car, a mayor freed by the kidnappers said Tuesday.

Mayor Alfredo Almeida of the southern town of Ipiales was among three people abducted Sunday along with Sen. Eladio Perez. The three were released late Monday.

“The senator is now being held alone,” Almeida told The Associated Press by phone from Ipiales, located along the border with Ecuador in southern Narino state, some 345 miles (590 kilometers) southwest of the capital.

Senate colleagues in Bogota and Almeida blamed the abduction on the country’s largest leftist insurgency, the 16,000 strong Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which is active in Narino.

The guerrillas have not claimed responsibility. Almeida, who spent a night in captivity with the lawmaker, said the rebels told him they were not after ransom money but did not further explain their motives.

Perez, a 16-year congressman and former Narino governor from the opposition Liberal Party, has been an outspoken opponent of a U.S.-backed program to fumigate drug crops in Colombia, using crop dusters.

Rebels, who tax the cocaine-producing crops for huge profits, also oppose the program. Narino is one of the country’s fast-growing producers of coca, the plant used to make cocaine.

Colombian lawmakers have been kidnapped before by guerrillas, and by rival right-wing paramilitaries. In December, suspected FARC rebels stopped a vehicle carrying a Liberal Party congressman in southern Caqueta state and assassinated the lawmaker along the highway along with his elderly mother and five others.

Paramilitaries last year abducted seven members of congress and held them for several weeks in order to protest agreements coming out of peace talks between the government and guerrillas.

According to Almeida, Perez was tricked by the FARC.

He said thieves stole a car belonging to Perez in Ipiales two weeks ago. Rebels then contacted the lawmaker and assured him they would give back the vehicle at a specified time and place.

Almeida, a senate aide and a local doctor accompanied Perez, who suffers from diabetes, on the trip Sunday to a road outside Ipiales. There, in addition to the stolen car, about a dozen uniformed FARC rebels lay in wait, Almeida said.

“These bandits set up a trap,” the mayor said.

The group was taken to a remote village and spent the night on mattresses laid out on the floor of a house next to a school. Late Monday night, all but the senator were set free.

Almeida said guerrillas told him they were taking Sen. Perez to a rebel camp deeper in the mountains where a commander was waiting to speak with him.