FARC rebels in the west of Colombia captured an army general, the highest ranking officer ever detained by the guerrillas in their 50-year history, on Sunday.
General Ruben Dario Alzate, commander of the Titan Army Task Force operating in the western coastal state of Choco, was taken prisoner by what are presumed to be members of the FARC’s 34th front, local media reported initially.
The general reportedly had entered a guerrilla-controlled jungle area while dressed as a civilian.
President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed the hostage-taking and immediately sent Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon to Choco to lead the investigation into how the rebels were able to take a general captive, something they had not been able to in the 50 years of the guerrilla group’s existence.
How the FARC got Alzate
This afternoon, Alzate reportedly asked that a boat take him along the Atrato river to a small village, a request which was authorized. He was accompanied by an army captain, a lawyer coordinating army projects in the region, and the boat’s pilot, according to the newspaper El Espectador.
Dressed in civilian clothes, the general ordered the soldier operating the boat to direct the vessel toward an area known as Las Mercedes, though the soldier warned that this was a “red zone” with a known presence of guerrillas.
The occupants of the boat disembarked in the small riverside village. FARC guerrillas then exited the houses and captured the surprised army personnel.
The soldier operating the boat viewed the incident and managed to flee. El Espectador’s report is based on the escaped soldier’s testimony, which the newspaper says it obtained.
Following the embarrassing revelation, Santos demanded that Pinzon and Armed Forces commander General Juan Pablo Rodriguez to explain why an army general would enter a red zone in civilian clothing.
The army has launched a search operation in order to ascertain the whereabouts of the general.
The Titan Army Task Force currently operates in 22 municipalities in the Choco region with its primary objective being to combat insecurity and illegality, principally from the FARC and neo-paramilitary groups.
The FARC recently captured two soldiers in a confrontation with the military. The rebel group denied that the detainees were kidnapped, as the Colombian government and much of Colombian media claimed, and instead declared that they were prisoners of war.
To facilitate the current peace talks between the group and the Colombian government, the FARC agreed to renounce the practice of kidnapping civilians and holding them for ransom, which it has recognized as a “error.”
The guerrillas have since respected international war law and surrendered “prisoners of war” to humanitarian groups.