The Colombian government canceled peace talks with Marxist rebels Sunday after the alleged kidnapping of an army general by local fighters. Ruben Dario Alzate was making a scheduled visit to the village of Las Mercedes in Colombia’s northern Cocho province when he was captured by members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, army officials said, according to the BBC.
“Tomorrow negotiators were to travel to another round of talks in Havana,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said, according to Reuters. “I will tell them not to go and that the talks are suspended until these people are released."
While making an appearance at an energy project in the region, Alzate was purportedly kidnapped along with another government official and a civilian lawyer. FARC asserts that military officials remain viable kidnapping targets as long as peace talks remain unresolved.
Colombian authorities dispatched military troops to search for the missing general. Alzate’s visit reportedly broke military protocol, as he entered rebel territory as a civilian, without bodyguards.
Conflict between the Colombian government and FARC has resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 people over the past 50 years, Reuters reports. The two sides have negotiated terms on a five-point agenda for peace in Havana since 2012, reaching agreements on land reform, a political voice for FARC and the end of Colombia’s drug trade. The remaining two points – FARC’s disarmament and compensation for the conflict’s victims – are still under negotiation.
Santos warned Sunday that continued delays to the peace process could result in a loss of progress. “The coming year should be the year of peace because, if it’s not, it seems to me that from there it would be difficult to continue this process indefinitely,” he told El Tiempo newspaper. “I don’t want to give a deadline. We are in a crucial moment, and if we don’t go forward, we will start to go back.”