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Colombian troops free 21 kidnapped oil workers

A jungle combat force and information from an escaped hostage are credited for the rescue in remote Vichada state. Officials say one worker remains in the hands of the FARC rebel group.

March 09, 2011|By Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Bogota, Colombia — Colombian officials said Tuesday that government troops rescued 21 of 23 oil field workers who were kidnapped the day before by suspected leftist rebels in remote Vichada state.

Defense Minister Rodrigo Rivera said the overnight military operation, code-named Minotaur, was greatly helped by a hostage who escaped shortly after the abduction and then provided information about others' whereabouts.

The abduction took place near the village of Puerto Principe, about 450 miles east of Bogota, the capital. Rivera and other officials blamed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the country's largest rebel group.

"The world came down on the heads of these terrorists," Rivera said, crediting the rapid response of a special jungle combat force for the rescue. Officials said the unidentified hostage still held by rebels works for Canada's Talisman Energy, which with local partner Ecopetrol was exploring for oil in the area. Search-and-rescue operations continued.

Details of the abduction were sketchy Tuesday, apart from officials' comments that about half a dozen armed people rounded up the workers at 4 p.m. Monday and led them into the jungle. Members of the FARC's 16th Front are believed responsible, the army said.

Troops in the jungle combat unit, which is attached to the army's 8th division, were dispatched to the region to search for the workers.

"Thanks to concentrated pressure applied all night, we achieved this morning the liberation of 19 and then, in a later part of the rescue, two more, who, added to the one who escaped yesterday, rounds out the total of 22 persons freed from this kidnapping committed by the FARC narco-terrorist group," Rivera told reporters.

Talisman and Ecopetrol acquired the oil field, known as CP-08, from BP as part of a package of Colombian assets that BP sold last year for $1.7 billion to help pay damages in connection with the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill last year. Most of the hostages were indigenous workers hired by Talisman subcontractor South American Exploration.

It was the first known case of kidnapped oil workers in Colombia since March 2010, when five subcontractors at Occidental Petroleum's oil processing facility in the eastern state of Arauca were briefly held.

Kraul is a special correspondent.

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