BOGOTA, Colombia — Leftist rebels kidnapped five gold prospectors doing exploratory drilling for a Canadian company before dawn Friday in a northern province of Colombia, officials said. One abductee was from Canada, two from Peru and two from Colombia.

Toronto-based Braeval Mining Corp. said the three company employees and two consultants were working at its Snow Mine gold and silver project. It did not release their names.

The men were seized around 5 a.m. by about two dozen rebels of the leftist National Liberation Army, Colombia's second-largest insurgency, in a rural area of the Bolivar state municipality of Norosi, said the armed forces commander, Gen. Alejandro Navas.

The rebel movement, known by its Spanish-language initials ELN, is far smaller with an estimated 1,500 fighters than the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which is currently engaged in peace talks with the government in Cuba.

The ELN has been seeking peace talks, too, though without success. Unlike the FARC, it has not renounced ransom kidnappings.

Colombia's president, Juan Manuel Santos, is anxious to try to end a half century of civil conflict that economists say costs the country hundreds of millions of dollars a year in lost economic opportunity, especially in the mining sector. Miners in Colombia have traditionally paid tributes, or "war taxes," to rebels and other illegal armed groups in exchange for being allowed to exploit precious metals.

Braeval said in a news release that it was fully cooperating with Colombian authorities in seeking to obtain the men's safe release.

Chris Eby, a Braeval spokesman in Toronto, declined to give any details of the kidnapping or provide the identities of the people abducted. The company's stock price fell 20.45 percent Friday.

The company, which went public in December, says on its website that it has options to acquire an interest in four adjacent mineral titles in the Snow Mine project, where it is looking for gold, silver and copper. It says it also holds or has applied for interests in Mexico, Peru, Honduras and Nicaragua.

A Canadian geologist who surveyed the 10-square-mile Snow Mine site last year, Darrel Smith, told The Associated Press that exploration was in its early stages. Company documents say Braeval planned to drill at least 10 holes during the first quarter of 2013 to obtain samples in an area where Smith said informal miners had dug shafts.

The area, in the San Lucas mountains, is a traditional ELN stronghold.

A regional security official, Jose Hilario Bossio, told the AP that the kidnapped men included engineers and geologists. He said soldiers and police were searching the sparsely populated area in the San Lucas mountains. The armed forces said it had put planes in the air to try to find them.

Canada's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was aware of the reported kidnapping of a Canadian in Colombia but provided no information on his identity.

The two Peruvians were identified as Javier Leandro Ochoa and Jose Antonio Mamani by Peru's consul in Colombia, Jorge Davila. It was not immediately clear if they were Braeval employees.

The chief of Colombia's anti-kidnapping police, Humberto Guatibonza, said he was aware of two other foreigners being held by kidnappers. He said one was from the Dominican Republic and the other from Guatemala and both were taken by common criminals rather than by illegal armed groups.

Colombia's vice president, Angelino Garzon, appealed to the ELN to immediately free the five prospectors without condition.


Associated Press writers Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, and Charmaine Noronha in Toronto contributed to this report.

Earlier on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • José Martí

    Born in Havana in 1853, Martí is Cuba’s national hero. As an intellectual and a poet he <a href="">fervently opposed Spanish rule on the island, consistently writing against the crown. </a>At the age of 16, he was convicted of treason and sedition for supporting the rebels during the Ten Years’ War (1868-1878) in Cuba. Afterwards, Martí was exiled twice -- living in Spain and later in the United States -- where he continued to dream of a free Cuba. Abroad, he attempted to muster support for the independence cause among Cuban exiles. In 1884 Martí and a relatively small group of Cuban exiles made their way to Cuba to start a revolution, an initiative that led to his death during one of the first confrontations with Spanish authorities on the island. Cuba did not attain independence from Spain until the Spanish-American War of 1898, nevertheless, Martí is upheld today as the nation’s most revered hero. Picture of the Monument to Jose Marti, a Cuban national hero, at Revolution Square in Havana, taken on February 8, 2008. (ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín

    “El Libertador” (The Liberator), as General Simón Bolívar is commonly known, was born in Caracas, New Granada, to a wealthy family. Though educated in Spain, Bolívar firmly believed in the South American independence movement. <a href="">He is credited with successfully liberating modern day Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, and Bolivia (named after the General), through his military campaigns.</a> After achieving independence, Bolívar intended to unite a still ideologically divided continent but was later accused of wanting to replace the Spanish crown with a military dictatorship of his own. On Dec. 17, 1830 the regional hero died of tuberculosis in Santa Marta, Colombia. During the wars of Independence in South America, <a href="">José de San Martín was an Argentine general that helped liberate Argentina, Chile, and Peru.</a> He is famously known for venturing across the Andes from Argentina to Chile to fight and free the countries from Spain. San Martín is still revered today in much of the Southern Cone as a national hero. On July 26, 1822 the two generals met in Guayaquil (then an independent state), but what they discussed there is still unknown. Bolívar took power over the newly freed nations and <a href="">San Martín, avoiding further political involvement, spent the rest of his days as an exile in Europe with his daughter. </a> He died in Boulogne-sur-Mer in 1850. Image: Depicted is the first and only time the two leaders met in Guayaquil; Los Padres de la Independencia (The Fathers of Independence).

  • Ernesto "Che" Guevara

    Born on June 14, 1928, Guevara is perhaps one of the most controversial figures of recent Latin American history. Born in Rosario, Argentina, the young asthmatic boy became an amateur athlete and <a href="">studied medicine in Buenos Aires.</a> After graduating, Guevara and his best friend Alberto Granado set off on a journey across South America which Che studiously documented in his personal diary, and which was immortalized in <a href="">Walter Salle’s “The Motorcycle Diaries.” (2004)</a> The people he met and the conditions he observed on this journey were the catalyst to the Marxist beliefs that led him to join Fidel Castro in the overthrow of the Batista regime in Cuba. After Castro took power, Guevara tried to export his revolutionary ideas, <a href="">leading a guerrilla movement in Bolivia that would result in his assassination on Oct. 9, 1967.</a> Though many revere him as a cultural hero -- a revolutionary fighting for social equality and a Latin America free from imperialistic influences -- <a href="">others remember the ruthless man that executed between 156 and 550 prisoners in Cuba without trial.</a>

  • Fidel Castro

    Born on Aug. 13, 1926, Castro was raised in an affluent family amid the poverty of the Cuban people. He studied law at the University of Havana where he became involved in anti-imperialist and socialist movements. After several unsuccessful attempts at overthrowing Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship -- along with his younger brother Raúl, and Ernesto “Che” Guevara<a href="">, Castro led the guerrilla's overthrow of the dictator in 1959</a>. Once in power, Castro embraced Marxism, establishing Cuba's Communist government that continues to stand today under Raúl’s rule. In this March 22, 1959, file photo, Fidel Castro, then Cuba's Prime Minister, salutes the crowd at a labor rally supporting him in Havana. (AP Photo/File)

  • Emiliano Zapata

    Born on Aug. 8, 1879, Zapata was a sharecropper and a horse trainer in Mexico under Porfirio Díaz’s regime. Zapata was also a community leader at the time and was the first to join Francisco I. Madero in attempting to overthrow Díaz. <a href="">He campaigned for agrarian reform, denouncing the feudal-like system in place at the time</a>. Once in power, Madera turned his back on Zapata, who then wrote his <a href="">Plan of Ayala</a> to denounce Madera. The Plan is a manifesto of what the Zapatismo movement's ideals -- land reform and freedom. <a href="">Leading his followers, Zapata fought with the cry “Tierra y Libertad” (Land and Liberty).</a> By the time of his assassination in 1919, the lands confiscated under Díaz had yet to be fully restored. The Zapatista movement lives on today. In January 1994 the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) re-launched the initiative for land and agrarian reform in Mexico. <em><strong>CORRECTION: a previous version of this slide incorrectly stated Emiliano Zapata's birth year as 1979. Zapata was born in 1879. </strong></em> Photo: Two children carry banners of Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata during a march of peasants against the economic model of Mexican President Felipe Calderon in Mexico City, on January 30, 2009. (LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Pancho Villa

    José Doroteo Arango Arámbula was born on June 5, 1878. The Mexican revolutionary is best known as Francisco Villa or Pancho Villa and <a href="">became a fugitive after he shot a man who was harassing his sister.</a> While living as an outlaw, Villa joined Francisco Madero’s uprising against the Porfirio Díaz regime. He became a colonel and defended Madero’s government until he too was removed from power by an uprising. Later he joined forces with revolutionary Emiliano Zapata against Victoriano Huerta’s government. Villa was assassinated on June 20, 1923.

  • Lolita Lebrón

    Born on November 19, 1919, Lebrón moved from Puerto Rico to New York in 1940 searching for a better life. What she found was poverty, prejudice and the <a href="">unhappy life of a seamstress</a>. Soon after she began corresponding with Puerto Rican nationalist and intellectual Pedro Albizu Campos -- who was imprisoned for plotting against U.S. President Truman in 1950. Hero or Terrorist? In 1954, Lebrón <a href=",9171,2008889,00.html">led a Puerto Rican nationalist group into the U.S. Capitol building</a>, shooting and injuring five Congressmen in an attempt to gain Puerto Rico’s Independence. Once taken into custody, <a href="">police found a note in her purse. </a>Expecting to die that day, Lebrón wrote: "My life I give for the freedom of my country. The United States of America are betraying the sacred principles of mankind in their continuous subjugation of my country." For the attack Lebrón was sentenced to 56 years of prison, but was released on the 25th year of her sentence. She continued fighting for her ideals until her death on August 1, 2010. Photo: Capitol police hold Lolita Lebrón and two others in custody on March 1, 1954, after they opened fire from the House gallery.

  • Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos

    Born on September 12, 1891, <a href="">Campos is known as the leader of the Puerto Rican independence movement.</a> The Spanish American War of 1898 had interrupted Puerto Rico's recently instituted autonomy from the Spanish crown, becoming a territory of the United States. Governed by officials named in Washington and with little voice in local affairs, nationalists like Albizu Campos fought to make their country an independent nation. His efforts towards independence frequently placed him behind bars both in Puerto Rico and United States. He is best <a href="">known for a failed assassination attempt against President Harry S. Truman.</a> He died on April 21, 1965.

  • Subcomandante Marcos

    Under his pseudonym and always appearing behind a black mask, Subcomandante Marcos conceals his identity as he continues Emiliano Zapata’s agrarian reform fight in Mexico. In January 1994, <a href="">the mysterious figure and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) revitalized Zapata’s movement in Chiapas</a>, a poor state in southern Mexico. Railing against President Vicente Fox’s neoliberal policies, the Zapatistas brought national and international attention to the indigenous communities living in the area. Known for his prophetic speeches, good humor, and pipe,<a href=""> Marcos has become for many a new kind of “Che” -- a leader of the people against repressive powers.</a> Some believe he is in fact Rafael Sebastián Guillén, a 43-year-old native of Tamaulipas who taught philosophy at the National Autonomous University in Mexico City before moving to Chiapas to work with Indigenous communities. Marcos insists on wearing the mask until the conflict is resolved.

  • César Chávez

    Born on March 31, 1927 in Arizona, Chávez is recognized as one of the leaders of the <a href="">Mexican American Civil Rights Movement</a> in the United States (also known as the Chicano Movement), which took off in the 1960s. Using non-violent forms of protest -- marches, hunger strikes, boycotts -- Chávez <a href="">fought to improve working conditions for farm workers.</a> These efforts led the Mexican-American civil rights leader to help found the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers. The labor leader's many hunger strikes are thought to have contributed to an early death in 1993. On Oct. 8, 2012, <a href="">President Barack Obama honored Chávez with a National Monument in California.</a> In this March 8, 1989 file photo, César Chávez gestures as he speaks during a news conference in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Alan Greth, File)