By CESAR GARCIA
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) â¿¿ Leftist rebels kidnapped five gold prospectors doing exploratory drilling for a Canadian company before dawn Friday in a northern province of Colombia, officials said. One abductee was from Canada, two from Peru and two from Colombia.
Toronto-based Braeval Mining Corp. said the three company employees and two consultants were working at its Snow Mine gold and silver project. It did not release their names.
The men were seized around 5 a.m. by about two dozen rebels of the leftist National Liberation Army, Colombia's second-largest insurgency, in a rural area of the Bolivar state municipality of Norosi, said the armed forces commander, Gen. Alejandro Navas.
The rebel movement, known by its Spanish-language initials ELN, is far smaller with an estimated 1,500 fighters than the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which is currently engaged in peace talks with the government in Cuba.
The ELN has been seeking peace talks, too, though without success. Unlike the FARC, it has not renounced ransom kidnappings.
Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, is anxious to try to end a half century of civil conflict that economists say costs the country hundreds of millions of dollars a year in lost economic opportunity, especially in the mining sector. Miners in Colombia have traditionally paid tributes, or "war taxes," to rebels and other illegal armed groups in exchange for being allowed to exploit precious metals.
Braeval said in a news release that it was fully cooperating with Colombian authorities in seeking to obtain the men's safe release.
Chris Eby, a Braeval spokesman in Toronto, declined to give any details of the kidnapping or provide the identities of the people abducted. The company's stock price fell 20.45 percent Friday.
The company, which went public in December, says on its website that it has options to acquire an interest in four adjacent mineral titles in the Snow Mine project, where it is looking for gold, silver and copper. It says it also holds or has applied for interests in Mexico, Peru, Honduras and Nicaragua.