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23 Colombian oil workers kidnapped

Officials say FARC rebels are responsible for the abductions in Vichada state.

March 07, 2011|By Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Caracas, Venezuela — Colombian officials reported that 23 oil field workers were kidnapped Monday in the eastern state of Vichada, and said they believed leftist rebels were responsible.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that the workers were employed by a contractor of Canada-based Talisman Energy, and that they were seized while conducting oil exploration activities.

Vichada Gov. Juan Carlos Avila told Caracol television that the leftist guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia, or FARC, were responsible for the kidnappings.

"They took them away to an unknown location, and as of now we don't know where" the oil workers are, Avila told a TV reporter. "This is a zone in the middle of the jungle with very difficult access."

Four workers at Occidental Petroleum's processing facility in the eastern state of Arauca were seized briefly last fall in the last known case in which workers in the oil industry were kidnapped.

According to the Defense Ministry statement, the kidnapping took place near the village of Puerto Principe. Members of the 16th Front of the FARC are believed responsible, the Colombian army said.

Elements of a jungle combat unit attached to the army's 8th Division were dispatched to the region to search for the workers, the military said.

Semana magazine reported on its website that among the kidnapped were laborers from the local indigenous community as well as engineers from outside the zone who were hired by subcontractor South American Exploration. The oil operation commenced in the region in November.

Kraul is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Jenny Carolina Gonzalez in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

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