January 31, 2013 / 1:52 PM / 7 years ago

Colombia rebels seize three oil workers, blow up energy tower

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s FARC rebels kidnapped three oil workers and killed four soldiers in the nation’s south, while they blew up an energy tower in the north, military sources said, in a sign the group is stepping up pressure during peace talks.

The kidnappings and other violent incidents on Wednesday came days after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, made clear during the negotiations in Cuba that it would continue to capture armed forces members even as talks continue.

The oil workers were contracted as engineers by Canada’s Gran Tierra Energy, according to an email from the Colombian air force overnight. Company officials in Canada and Bogota were not immediately available to comment.

The air force was hunting for the contractors, the statement said. They were believed to be Colombians.

President Juan Manuel Santos’ government and Marxist rebels have been engaged in peace negotiations in Havana since November, trying to reach a settlement to a war that has defied all past attempts for resolution.

The FARC, the biggest and oldest armed group in Latin America, also seized two police patrolmen in a southwestern province last weekend - the first kidnapping of security forces since the group said last year it would stop taking hostages to finance its activities.

The rebels have in the past seized oil workers for ransom and to disrupt economic interests.

While the FARC has said it would stop kidnapping to fund its war against the government, it never said it would stop taking members of the armed forces as “prisoners of war.” In April of last year it released all government forces under its control.

An escalation of hostilities could affect the progress of the peace talks in Cuba. Santos has said he wants to achieve an agreement within a year.

Reporting by Helen Murphy, Editing by Jackie Frank

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