Colombia urges FARC to free Chinese oil workers

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Colombian officials Friday demanded the release of four Chinese oil workers believed to have been kidnapped by guerrillas from the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

"The vice president has demanded that the FARC guerrillas free them and repeats that kidnapping must stop so that we can begin talking peace," a statement from the office of Vice President Angelino Garzon said.

The four men, who are employees of the British oil company Emerald Energy a subsidiary of Sinochem, were kidnapped by at least seven armed men wearing civilian clothes on Wednesday.

They were traveling in a region where the FARC are especially active, near the town of San Vicente del Caguan, in the southern Caqueta region.

Despite a massive search operation launched on Thursday that includes the air force as well as land and river patrols, the authorities have no leads.

Emerald Energy said it had not heard from its employees or the kidnappers since the men disappeared.

The FARC, which has been at war with the Colombian government since 1964, is the country's oldest and largest leftist group, with an estimated 8,000 combatants.

Last year, 282 people were kidnapped in the South American country -- a 32 percent increase compared to the previous year, according to official figures.

Criminals were responsible for most of the kidnappings -- 57 percent -- compared to 35 percent for leftist guerrillas.

Earlier this year, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos warned multinational companies they would be kicked out of the country if they paid ransoms to rebel groups or other criminal gangs that have kidnapped their employees.

© 2011 AFP

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