Image caption Wilson Ramos - seen here after he was rescued - was held for two days in a mountainous region

The Venezuelan government says that the US Major League baseball player, Wilson Ramos, who was kidnapped by armed men, has been found alive.

Information Minister Andres Izarra said security forces had located Ramos in the Montalban mountains near to where he was seized on Wednesday.

Ramos, 24, is a catcher for the Washington Nationals team.

Correspondents say the families of wealthy athletes in Venezuela are periodically targeted in similar ways.

"The baseball player Ramos found alive by security forces in mountainous zone," tweeted Mr Izarra.

Mr Izarra said it was "a rescue operation by air", which was authorised earlier in the day by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

He said three men were arrested, including a Colombian "linked to paramilitary groups and to kidnapping groups".

Lack of security

Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami said on TV that Ramos was "safe and sound".

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Media captionBBC's Sarah Grainger: "It was a very organised kidnapping and had been planned for some time"

Ramos' mother celebrated, exclaiming on television: "Thanks to God!"

She said she had spoken to her son by telephone, saying: "He's fine."

There are so far no details of how Ramos was located.

He was seized at his mother's home in Valencia, 150km (90 miles) west of the capital Caracas, after going to Venezuela to play games during the US close season.

Sports figures have found themselves the target of violent crime in Venezuela in the past, but this is thought to be the first case targeting a baseball player in the US Major League.

Most kidnappings in Venezuela are carried out to extort a ransom, but there have been no reports of any ransom demand in this case.

The Institute for Investigations on Coexistence and Citizen Security (Incosec), a Venezuelan think tank, estimated that last year Venezuela saw 1,179 kidnappings, or about three cases every day.

The rising rate of violent crime has become a major source of public concern in Venezuela in recent years, with many accusing President Chavez's government of not doing enough to combat the problem.