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Monday, 18 September, 2000, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Mass abduction from Cali restaurants
Police interviewing family members of Sunday's kidnap victims
Police interviewing family members of Sunday's kidnap victims
Suspected Marxist rebels have kidnapped at least 30 people who had been dining at two exclusive restaurants outside the Colombian city of Cali.

About 50 armed men, many in military uniform wearing bulletproof vests, stormed the restaurants on Sunday night, police said. A couple were also seized from a nearby farm.

The mass kidnapping - the largest this year - happened after fierce fighting broke out in the north-west of the country between rebels and government troops.

Colombia is the kidnap capital of the world, with 3,000 abductions reported in 1999 and an average of more seven a day reported this year.

Left-wing rebels, who are responsible for the majority of kidnappings, use the ransoms to fund their 37-year-war against the state.

Wealthy retreat

Lorena Gonzalez, daughter of kidnap victims
Lorena Gonzalez (left) learns her parents were among those seized
The Cabin and Embassy of Geneva restaurants, where the abductions took place, lie about half an hour's drive from Cali and are been popular destinations for wealthy diners wanting a quiet meal away from the heat of the city.

They are situated on the Via Al Mar, which leads to the city of Buenaventura on the Pacific Ocean, about 80km (50 miles) to the west.

Police said the kidnapping might have been carried out by the National Liberation Army (ELN) working with members of Colombia's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The mass abduction recalls one carried out by ELN in May 1999, when gunman burst into a church and kidnapped the entire congregation of 150 people and the priest.

Fierce fighting

Clashes with FARC rebels have been reported around the town of Dabeiba, in the Uraba region.

Anti-Narcotics police keep guard in a coca field as a plane fumigates the crop close to Tumaco
Anti-narcotics troops have stepped up their campaign
Reports say government troops are being backed by US-made helicopter gunships and the clashes are continuing.

The Uraba - once a guerrilla stronghold - has been taken over by right-wing paramilitaries and the latest action is part of a continued campaign by the guerrillas to regain the area, which commands a major supply route to the Caribbean and the border with Panama.

BBC Colombia correspondent Jeremy McDermott says the area is very rich and whoever controls it also gains revenue from the drugs, arms and contraband that pass through it.

Colombia is the source of 80% of the world's cocaine and a leading supplier of the heroin sold in the US.

The fighting in Colombia is estimated to have killed 35,000 since 1990. Both sides routinely exaggerate enemy casualties and minimise their own.

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See also:

09 Sep 00 | Americas
Hijacked Colombian plane released
07 Sep 00 | Americas
Drug submarine found in Colombia
29 Aug 00 | Americas
US commits to Colombia
27 Aug 00 | Americas
Major drugs cartel smashed
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My story: The drug smuggler
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