Nine lawmakers taken hostage in Colombia

 

Nine provincial lawmakers were taken hostage Thursday in the southwestern Colombian city of Cali by an armed group that burst into the legislature, military officials said.

Nine provincial lawmakers were taken hostage Thursday in the southwestern Colombian city of Cali by an armed group that burst into the legislature, military officials said.

Among those taken hostage was assembly speaker Mr Juan Carlos Narvaez, according to an official with the army's Third Brigade, who requested anonymity. Officials initially reported that six lawmakers had been kidnapped.

A police officer died on the way to the hospital after being seriously wounded in a shoot-out with the assailants.

Local radio reports said armed men in military fatigues hustled the lawmakers into an all-terrain vehicle destined for a rural area of southern Cali.

An abandoned vehicle thought to have been used in the abduction was found by authorities in Pinchinde, the military official said. A military plane and ground-based troops have since swept the area, searching in vain for any trace of the kidnapped legislators.

Though Colombia is no stranger to abductions, Cali is especially notorious for the sheer number and size of abductions that occur there annually. Rebels with the leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) engineered the snatching of some 80 tourists from a resort near the city in September 2000.

A local official said the army and police were investigating whether Thursday's kidnapping was the work of the ELN or the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -both of which operate in Cali and other parts of Valle department.

But the official said no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.