Colombian peace talks suspended after hijacking, kidnapping
BOGOTA, Colombia (CNN) -- Colombia's president suspended peace talks with leftist rebels Wednesday after four of them hijacked a commercial airliner and kidnapped a Liberal Party senator who had been a passenger aboard the plane.
Military officials said that two men and two women commandeered the DeHavilland Dash 8 aircraft as it took off from the regional airport at Neiva about 8:45 a.m. EST. The plane was bound for Bogota, about 150 miles to the northeast.
Camilo Gomez of the government peace committee said the kidnappers were members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which has waged a 38-year civil war with the Colombian government.
The hijackers forced the plane down on a rural highway about 20 miles away a few minutes after takeoff, and fled with an undetermined number of captives toward a demilitarized zone where peace talks between FARC and government officials have been taking place.
Among the kidnapped was Gorge Eduardo Gechen Turbay, a Liberal senator and chairman of the peace commission.
The kidnapping prompted President Andres Pastrana to suspend peace talks and to recall the government team that has been negotiating with FARC rebels for the past three years. Pastrana is expected to address the nation later Wednesday.
There were conflicting reports on how many other people, in addition to the senator, were abducted, and conflicting reports on how many passengers had been aboard the plane.
The other passengers were said to be safe and were taken to the town of Hobo, near where the plane landed.
The hijacking comes at a time when FARC and the government are trying to negotiate a cease-fire agreement by April 7. This incident, however, seems certain to harden the government's negotiating stance and dent even further the credibility of Colombia's slow-moving peace process.
Horacio Serpa, Liberal Party candidate in forthcoming presidential elections, was disturbed by the hijacking.
"Who can continue to believe in a peace process when crimes of this nature are being committed?" he asked.
Wednesday's hijacking was the third of a commercial airliner by suspected FARC fighters in the past 18 months.
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