Colombian senator wants Bush’s backing in prisoners swap

March 24th, 2008 - 9:08 am ICT by admin  

Bogota, March 24 (DPA) Luis Eladio Perez, a former Colombian senator and one- time hostage of the leftist rebel group, is seeking a meeting with US President George W. Bush to get his backing for the latest effort to swap hostages for rebels in Colombian prisons. Perez has already discussed his new exchange plan with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, and also met French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris. The deal would include the release of former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, the highest profile hostage of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who has dual French-Colombian citizenship.

The former senator’s wife, Angela de Perez, said Sunday that the meeting with Bush - being sought through diplomatic channels - was needed because the US had an important role to play in the possible execution of any exchange.

The new plan involves the release of 39 hostages for some 500 members of FARC. The exchange would be made in French territories overseas such as Martinique or French Guiana, according to Argentinian newspaper Clarin.

Colombia and FARC have agreed to an exchange in principle, but disagreements over how and where to make the swap have doomed the plan a number of times in the past year.

The deal would involve France removing FARC from its list of terrorist organizations, while Washington would have to free two rebels imprisoned in the US - Ricardo Palmera and Anayibe Rojas. The two would be granted asylum in France under the proposal.

FARC would in turn release three US contractors - Keith Stansell, Thomas Howes and Mark Gonsalves - who were kidnapped in February 2003.

It is estimated that FARC holds at least 700 hostages.

Former legislator Consuelo Gonzales - herself a one-time captive released in January - said Sunday that she was hopeful Perez’s plan would be successful.

“It would be the best news of the year, of the century, because it would permit the freeing of 39 people who live … in the most terrible humanitarian situation,” Gonzalez told radio station Caracol.

Perez was taken captive in 2001 and released in February along with three other legislators. He is also likely to travel to Venezuela to present his plan to President Hugo Chavez, who has had a mediating role in the conflict in the past.

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