Colombia’s Betancourt ‘matter of life or death’ for world

March 1st, 2008 - 9:04 am ICT by admin  

By Sandra Parra
Bogota, March 1 (DPA) The poor health of former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, kidnapped six years ago, and the appalling conditions in which the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are holding her have touched the whole world. “It is a matter of life or death,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at a press conference in South Africa.

The case of Betancourt, 46, became even more dire this week when a released hostage described the failing condition of the politician, who holds dual French-Colombian citizenship.

Sarkozy went as far as to say that he was ready to collect her in person at the Colombian-Venezuelan border, if necessary.

“FARC must know and understand that the martyrdom of Ingrid Betancourt is the martyrdom of France,” Sarkozy said.

The account of Luis Eladio Perez - one of four former legislators unilaterally released by FARC Wednesday - about Betancourt’s condition touched not just the woman’s family but also the European Union and several Latin American nations.

“We cannot let our relatives die in the jungle. I hope FARC understands that they cannot keep holding them like that, because that is playing with them in an extreme fashion,” said Melanie Delloye, Betancourt’s daughter.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez too called on FARC’s top leader, known by the alias Manuel Marulanda Velez, to review the conditions under which she is being held captive and hopefully to transfer her to a different camp.

“The guerrilla has been particularly sadistic with Ingrid,” Perez said after being released.

“I think we should not keep hiding a reality that the world must know. The treatment was inhumane. The rebels once tried to hit Ingrid because she would not let them put on the chains that they left on us for 24 hours. One time, we tried to run away. They took our boots and made us walk bare-footed,” said Perez, who was a hostage for more than six years.

Perez, one of the hostages closest to Betancourt, said she has a kidney ailment that prevents her from eating properly and makes her “very weak”.

Pictures of Betancourt in November showed her strikingly emaciated and looking depressed. “I think she is worse than she looks in the latest proof of life known for her,” Perez said.

Perez called Betancourt “FARC’s golden booty” and noted that this has prevented the rebels from taking even harsher measures with the politician, who has tried to escape at least five times.

“In 2005, she managed to convince me to run away, and we managed to escape, and the guerrilla set up an unimaginable operation, and I have to admit that I was handicapped by my illness,” Perez said. “And given the conditions in the jungle, we decided to return. On that occasion I thought the rebels were going to kill me.”

The released hostage said that one of the few items that constitute proof of life that he managed to take from his captivity was a belt “that Ingrid knitted with great effort in the jungle and that she sent (to her daughter) Melanie”.

“I am alive today for my family, for my children and of course for the help that Ingrid gave me during the kidnapping,” he stressed.

The details of her condition caused great anxiety for Betancourt’s mother, Yolanda Pulecio, who pleaded for the Colombian government and FARC to show the political will to achieve a prisoner exchange soon.

“I ask God and the Holy Virgin to protect the life of my daughter. I do that every day and every night,” a weeping Pulecio told reporters.

Betancourt has become a symbol of kidnapping in Colombia, as well as FARC’s highest-profile hostage. This makes a prompt release more difficult and unlikely, though there is certain optimism in Colombia as to the possible results of the joint efforts of Chavez and Sarkozy.

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