Betancourt urges Lula to help Colombia mend diputes with neighbours

July 10th, 2008 - 11:46 am ICT by IANS  

Sao Paulo, July 10 (IANS) Former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt has called on Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to mediate disputes pitting her homeland against Venezuela and Ecuador, EFE news agency reported Thursday. In an interview with Brazilian TV Globo, Betancourt said Wednesday that the Brazilian leader was the most-suited person to help Colombian President Alvaro Uribe mend fences with his Venzuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez and Rafael Correa of Ecuador.

Betancourt, who holds dual French-Colombian citizenship, was among the 15 people freed by Colombian troops from the captivity of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas last week.

“Lula is of the left, as I am, and I believe his participation will be decisive to ensure that Chavez and Uribe can dialogue openly and productively and that Correa re-establishes relations with Colombia,” Betancourt said.

Ecuador severed ties with Bogota in March after Colombia’s raid on a clandestine FARC camp just inside Ecuadorian territory. The March 1 attack left 26 people dead, including the rebel group’s second-in-command Raul Reyes.

Correa and ally Chavez - who likewise broke relations with Bogota - both sent extra troops to their respective borders with Colombia, but the crisis eased after the three presidents met at a March 7 summit in the Dominican Republic.

While Colombia and Venezuela have resumed normal relations, Bogota and Quito still remain at odds, largely due to the Colombian claims that information found on computers belonging to Raul Reyes linked the Correa and Chavez governments to the rebel group.

Betancourt, who spent six and half years in the hands of FARC, told TV Globo that her immediate priority was to secure the release of “hundreds of hostages who remain captive”.

FARC still has 25 high-profile hostages, who the rebel group hopes to trade for its jailed comrades.

The 46-year-old politician also said she has plans to remain in France for a while, re-connecting with family and friends, before returning to Colombia or undertaking possible visits to Venezuela and Ecuador.

In her appearance on TV Globo, she recounted the time that she and fellow hostage Luis Eladio Perez, a senator unilaterally freed by the FARC earlier this year in an operation managed by Chavez, made a run for the Brazilian border after getting away from their captors.

“We didn’t know exactly where we were,” Betancourt said, explaining that she and Perez hoped to reach one of the Amazon tributaries whose “current would carry us and we would end up some day in Manaus”, capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas.

But after wandering in the jungle for five days without food, Betancourt and the diabetic Perez decided to surrender to the FARC.

In 2003, then-French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who had been one of Betancourt’s professors at Paris’ elite Sciences Po university, sparked a diplomatic flap by mounting a covert mission to Manaus as part of an ultimately unsuccessful bid to rescue his former student.

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