The Colombian government launched a massive search and rescue operation after eight people from a village in the western Chocó province were reportedly abducted by armed men on Sunday (7 May).

The government accused the country's second largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army or ELN, of the kidnapping. The hostages included a woman and seven men.

The kidnapping incident reportedly took place in a village called Sesego in the town of Nóvita, located 540km west of capital Bogotá.

"I was told that armed men took seven men and a woman from [the village of] Sesego this morning," Novita Mayor Deyler Eduardo Camacho was quoted by local media as saying soon after the kidnapping reports came in. He added that he was not sure "which illegal armed group" was involved in the kidnapping, "but the army is already making itself present in the area".

The province is facing fierce conflicts between the ELN and a paramilitary force called AGC, which the government recognises as an organised criminal gang.

Colombian Defence Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said in a statement that they will deploy additional 500 soldiers to the region to back the already stationed 6,300 men to deal with the fighting groups.

The latest kidnapping incident comes just days ahead of the start of peace negotiations between the government and the ELN in Ecuador. Talks between the two parties began in February after the President Juan Manuel Santos-led government successfully concluded a peace deal with the country's biggest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) in 2016.

Colombia's chief negotiator, Juan Camilo Restrepo, in a Twitter post said the kidnapping incident could "enormously" hamper the upcoming negotiations with ELN. The government has reportedly been insistent that the rebel group stop abductions to allow peaceful negotiations to continue.

Colombian soldier
The Colombian government has launched a huge rescue operation after second largest rebel group, the ELN, allegedly kidnapped eight civilians from a village in Choco province - File photo REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga