Colombia, once wrought by deadly conflict from rebel insurgency, has seen a 92 percent decrease in kidnappings from 2000, a Colombian police official said. In 2016, 188 people were kidnapped, compared to the 3,400 kidnapped in 2000. At least 524 people were arrested in the past year over kidnappings. Photo by Maria Veronica Navas/UPI
BOGOTA, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Gen. Fernando Murillo, director of Colombia's GAULA anti-kidnapping agency, said 188 kidnappings occurred in 2016, a 92 percent drop since 2000.
"We had more than 3,400 cases in 2000 ... there is more than a 92 percent reduction compared to the alarming figures we had at that era," Murillo told RCN Radio in an interview on Tuesday.
Of those kidnapped in 2016, 88 percent were kidnapped by common criminals, 11 percent were kidnapped by the National Liberation Army, or ELN, rebel group, while the remaining were kidnapped by organized crime groups.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, rebel group, did not carry out kidnappings, Murillo said.
At least 30 gangs dedicated to kidnapping were disbanded in the past year, leading to the arrest of more than 524 people, Murillo added.
Murillo said authorities are still working to find Alejandro Cubides, a former councilman of the Acacías municipality in Colombia's Meta department, who was kidnapped earlier this month. Murillo said Cubides was kidnapped by a gang but some friends and relatives of Cubides have accused FARC of carrying out the capture.
A man called Cubides' wife to alert her of the kidnapping but did not demand a ransom and did not identify himself or the group responsible.
In another case, Murillo said authorities hope to find Rosalba Ariza, a teacher kidnapped nearly two months ago in the Cauca department, "safe and sound" after several suspects were arrested. Murillo also said GAULA has acquired information on suspects responsible for the kidnapping of three family members from the Antioquia department.
The Colombian government under President Juan Manuel Santos is working to end decades-long conflict in the country by establishing separate peace agreements with the FARC and ELN Marxist-inspired insurgent groups.
Negotiations with ELN have stalled because the rebel group has refused to release kidnapped Congressman Odin Sanchez. ELN said it would release Sanchez once negotiations begin, but Santos' administration said Sanchez must be released before talks start.
More than 220,000 people have died and about 5 million have been internally displaced due to the Colombian conflict primarily attributed to FARC since its founding in 1964. FARC and ELN members engaged in drug-trafficking, kidnapping and other illegal activity to fund their campaign against the government.
Santos was recently awarded the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end Colombia's 52-year conflict.