Colombian provincial governor killed by suspected Farc rebels

• Body found with gunshot wounds and explosives belt
• Victim had been held for ransom four times before

Farc rebels in Colombia have killed a provincial governor hours after kidnapping him in a bold commando raid, marking a return of political kidnaps.

Clad in his pyjamas, Luis Francisco Cuellar was taken from his home in Florencia, capital of Caquetá province, on Monday night after at least eight suspected members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) blasted the door down with explosives, according to local officials.

His body was found hours later in a rural area. President Alvaro Uribe said last night that Cuellar's throat had been slit.

The acting Caquetá governor, Patricia Vega, told local radio that the government had confirmed Cuellar's body was found near a vehicle abandoned by the commando squad. "Unfortunately we have to accept this painful reality," Vega said. The Farc has yet to issue a statement.

Officials said information from peasants led troops to the body after Uribe had offered a $500,000 (£313,000) reward for information. Uribe's father was killed in a botched kidnapping in 1982.

Troops combed jungles and mountains of the region throughout Tuesday, searching for Cuellar and his abductors.

Police discovered the charred remains of the pick-up truck used in the abduction 20 minutes outside the city. Nine explosive charges were found near the truck, presumably to slow the chase.

Cuellar's family said that he had been under threat, while Silva said that the authorities had received indications that Farc planned an attack. Caquetá, a region covered by a mix of cattle ranches and jungle, has been racked by violence and kidnappings for decades.

Cuellar himself had been held for ransom on four previous occasions.

Caquetá was also where the French-Colombian presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, was kidnapped in 2002 as part high-profile abductions the rebels had hoped to use to negotiate with the government. She and 14 other prize hostages were rescued in July 2008 in a bold intelligence operation called Operation Checkmate.

Kidnappings have dropped sharply from an all-time high in 2001 of 3,029 to 172 in the first 10 months of 2009 under the hardline "democratic security" policies of the Uribe government, nearly doubling the size of Colombia's military and benefiting from $700m in annual US military aid.

Through a series of unilateral releases, bold escapes and Operation Checkmate, the Farc is left holding 24 soldiers and police officers as hostages.

The group had said it was preparing to release two of the soldiers and the body of a third now dead, possibly before the new year. But it was unclear whether those efforts would continue, since Uribe said that he had ordered his generals to rescue all the hostages.

"Who can believe in those bandits? Let's not wait for acts of generosity from terrorists," he said. But families of the 24 hostages asked the president to reconsider his order for a military rescue, fearing for the lives of their loved ones.

Marleny Orjuela, the leader of an organisation that groups the families, noted that the rebels were under orders to kill their hostages if troops closed in. "We don't want them [our hostages] wrapped in a flag," she said.

The Farc once boasted more than 20,000 fighters, and has experienced a series of setbacks over the past few years but some analysts warn that the guerrillas are regrouping and that Colombia could see an upsurge in rebel attacks.


Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogotá

The GuardianTramp

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