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Colombian FARC dissidents take U.N. official hostage

BOGOTA A member of a United Nations team working on a project in Colombia to substitute illegal crops was kidnapped by dissident former FARC rebels who have rejected the peace process, U.N., police and military sources said on Thursday.

The U.N. official Arley Lopez, a Colombian, was seized on Wednesday by gunmen close to Miraflores in southern Guaviare province, where coca cultivation has long formed a big part of Colombia’s cocaine production. He was stopped by armed men in a convoy of vehicles, the sources said.

The government is seeking to switch coca – the raw material for cocaine – to legal crops.

The kidnapping comes as the U.N. Security Council is in Colombia to discuss the peace accord signed late last year with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end more than five decades of conflict in the Andean nation.

While as many as 7,000 fighters agreed to the pact and are currently in the process of turning in their weapons to the United Nations, several hundred have refused. These dissidents have formed a new criminal band and continue the lucrative drug trafficking business that the official FARC group engaged in for years, the military has said. FARC leadership has expelled the dissidents.

The FARC for decades used drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion to fund its battle with the government.

Many Colombians, including opposition politicians like former President Alvaro Uribe, are angry the peace accord allows former FARC fighters to avoid jail time and enter politics. They say the government has not done enough to stop other crime groups and FARC dissidents filling the void and taking over the drugs business.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta and Helen Murphy; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)