Mission in search of Betancourt under way: France

April 3rd, 2008 - 7:04 pm ICT by admin  

Paris, April 3 (IANS) France has sent a humanitarian mission to establish contact with Colombia’s former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, held hostage by the country’s leftist rebels since 2002. President Nicolas Sarkozy late Wednesday said Spain and Switzerland were also taking part in the mission to free Betancourt, who holds dual French-Colombian citizenship, from captivity of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Spain’s EFE news agency reported Thursday.

The French daily Le Figaro reported that a former French consul and a doctor have been sent to Bogota on the humanitarian mission. However, it was not clear whether there had been any contact with the rebels.

Barbara Hintermann, who represents the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Colombia, said Wednesday that the ICRC stood ready to assist in the French operation, but only if the request comes from the FARC.

Hours after making a televised appeal to FARC chief Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda for Betancourt’s release, Sarkozy telephoned Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Wednesday and asked him to suspend “all types of military operations” in the area in the southeastern Colombian province of Guaviare where Betancourt is believed to be kept by the rebels.

The secretary of state for France’s overseas territories, Yves Jego, had said earlier that an aircraft was being kept ready in French Guiana for possible use in an operation aimed at securing the release of Betancourt.

FARC, the largest rebel guerrilla group in Colombia, has been holding more than 100 people hostage for more than five years.

The leftist rebels want to trade Betancourt and 39 other high-profile captives for hundreds of jailed guerrillas.

The Colombian president signed a decree last week laying the legal basis for a prisoner exchange with the FARC, but Bogota remains unwilling to grant the rebels’ demand for a temporary demilitarised zone to serve as a venue for talks and the swap.

The FARC has so far rejected Uribe’s conditional offer of a much-smaller “meeting zone”.

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