Chavez says he continues working to free Colombian hostages

April 14th, 2008 - 12:29 pm ICT by admin  

Caracas, April 14 (IANS) Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that his government “is working” towards the release of a “third group” of hostages by the leftist guerrillas, including Ingrid Betancourt, EFE news agency reported Monday. “We’re working on the matter of the release of the third group, and we want that third group to include Ingrid Betancourt,” Chavez was quoted by Venezuela’s ABN news agency as saying.

Former Colombian presidential candidate Betancourt, who also holds French citizenship, has been held hostage by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) since February 2002.

Chavez has asked the FARC guerrillas publicly several times to free Betancourt soon because of the delicate state of her health, given that she suffers from hepatitis and other illnesses.

In January and February this year, the FARC released six Colombian politicians as an “apology” to Chavez and to Colombian opposition senator Piedad Cordoba.

The Venezuelan leader and the senator had been mediating the exchange of 45 FARC hostages for some 500 imprisoned rebels from August to November 2006 when Colombian President Alvaro Uribe unexpectedly put an end to those activities.

On Saturday, Chavez repeated the commitment of his government to the humanitarian exchange during an appearance at a forum of artistes and intellectuals in Caracas.

“We continue to be involved in the matter of the humanitarian exchange to achieve the release of the FARC hostages and, at its proper time, for peace in Colombia,” Chavez said.

Yolanda Pulecio, Betancourt’s mother, reiterated her gratitude to Chavez for his efforts to get FARC hostages freed, the state-run news agency said.

“Thanks for everything that you have done to achieve the release of the hostages. Very regretfully, my daughter Ingrid has not been able to be released, but I trust the work that you are performing to secure that release,” Pulecio said.

Betancourt’s former husband, Fabrice Delloye, meanwhile told the German weekly Der Spiegel that the former presidential candidate’s family was “very disappointed” at the lack of response from the FARC to the proposal of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and by Uribe’s inflexible attitude.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the Colombian daily El Tiempo Sunday, the country’s peace commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo said that the Uribe administration is maintaining its guarantees for a new French humanitarian trip to the country.

“That is a priority,” Restrepo said, adding that the hostages “continue (to be) in bad shape”.

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