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Colombia breaks own record for kidnappings

Colombia, the kidnapping capital of the world, set a new record this year with more than 3,000 abductions, according to a report from a private monitoring group.

The war-ravaged South American country has an average of more than nine reported abductions each day, mainly by leftist guerrillas and criminals seeking ransoms.

The report, issued Wednesday by the private Free Country foundation, said at least 3,029 people were kidnapped through November, compared to 2,757 during all of 1999. Many cases are never reported to monitoring groups or authorities.

The total was brought up by mass abductions _ such as a September raid by the National Liberation Army, or ELN, which seized about 80 people from a strip of roadside restaurants near Cali, Colombia's second largest city.

According to Free Country, the ELN was responsible for 27 percent of the year's reported abductions. The nation's largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was responsible for 24 percent. The rightist paramilitary militias of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, was accused of 8 percent of abductions.

Kidnappings are on the rise partly because of the enormous ransoms the armed groups have gotten for their victims, said David Buitrago, an analyst with Free Country. Most of those kidnapped were Colombian, although at least 36 foreigners were snatched. Children were also targeted, with an estimated 264 minors abducted through November.

Colombia's 36-year civil war is escalating, and the armed groups rely more than ever on ransom to finance their operations.