Colombian police rescue two kidnapped Spanish tourists

BOGOTA Sat Jun 15, 2013 12:50pm EDT

1 of 3. Spanish citizens Angel Fernandez Sanchez (C) and Maria Concepcion Marlaska (L) arrive at the Catam military airport in Bogota June 15, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jose Miguel Gomez

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BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian police staged a raid in northern La Guajira province early on Saturday and rescued two Spanish tourists held captive by an unidentified group for nearly a month, police officials said.

Maria Concepcion Marlaska, 43, and Angel Fernandez Sanchez, 49, were seized on May 17 while traveling by car to the popular tourist destination of Cabo de la Vela on Colombia's northern peninsula.

"They are free and in good health," Colonel Elber Velasco, commander of La Guajira police, told reporters. "It was a rescue that required very important intelligence, an operation that did not allow the use of weapons."

The abduction may have been the work of common criminals, security sources say. Two people, one Spanish and one from Syria, were arrested in Madrid in connection with a ransom demand, Spain's Interior Ministry said.

Colombian police sources said Spanish police were involved in the efforts that led to the rescue.

The tourists were freed in an operation near the city of Maicao on a stretch of land which juts into the Caribbean Sea and borders northwestern Venezuela.

Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon was to provide further details later on Saturday.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country's biggest rebel group, last month denied accusations that it was holding the tourists, but Spanish news reports said the kidnappers had identified themselves as members of the Marxist-led guerrilla group when they contacted the family of the victims to demand a ransom.

The FARC and the Colombian government began talks in November to try to end a war that began with the FARC's formation in 1964 as a communist agrarian reform group.

The FARC last year halted the taking of hostages and the group has repeatedly said the order was being followed by the entire rebel force.

The group has a history of kidnapping to raise money for its struggle against the government, but rebel leaders called a stop to the practice to encourage the peace process.

It is not unusual for criminals to claim kidnappings or other actions in the group's name.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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