- Colombia - FARC - Ingrid Betancourt
Hours after a French aid mission to treat hostage Ingrid Betancourt landed in Colombia, the FARC guerilla group released a statement denying any possibility that Betancourt could be released unilaterally.
"Only as a result of a prisoner exchange will the people held captive in our camps be let free," a statement from FARC leader Rodrigo Granda said. "It is not acceptable that they ask us for more peace gestures after so many examples of our political good will."
The ANNCOL news agency, said to be close to the Marxist guerillas, called French President Nicolas Sarkozy "naive" for sending the mission without the FARC agreement.
From Bucharest where he is attending the NATO summit, President Sarkozy said he had news but “couldn’t say more about it given the sensitivity of the issue.”
Daniel Parfait, a diplomat and Ingrid Betancourt's brother-in-law, is reportedly on the plane that left France on Wednesday. Noël Sanez, a former French consul in Bogota, is also said to be part of the trip.The mission is being "facilitated" by France, Spain and Switzerland.
On Tuesday, President Sarkozy called Colombian president Alvaro Uribe to tell him of his decision to send “without delay” a “humanitarian mission … to make contact” with the FARC guerillas. “He has asked the Colombian president to suspend all forms of military operation so as to ensure the security and success of this mission,” a spokesperson for the Elysee said.
In response, Uribe has announced the suspension of military operations in the south-east of Colombia, in an area considered to be FARC territory. “We have expressed our complete agreement with allowing this international medical mission to make contact with the hostages and give them medical aid,” said Uribe while stressing that this mission “will be accompanied by the International Committee of the Red Cross”.
In a television address subtitled in Spanish, French President Nicolas Sarkozy appealed to Manuel Marulanda, the leader of Colombia's FARC rebels, to release the Colombian-French hostage Ingrid Betancourt. "Ingrid is in danger of imminent death," he said in the latest in a series of French initiatives to secure the release of the former candidate to the Colombian presidential election.
"She no longer has the strength to resist an interminable captivity that is turning into tragedy," said Sarkozy.
Argentinian president Cristina Kirchner added her support to that of the French president and has said that she is “actively seeking a humanitarian agreement opening up the possibility of peace in our sister republic of Colombia”. Similarly, Brazilian president Lula da Silva also expressed his “unwavering solidarity” with Nicolas Sarkozy.
Interviewed on FRANCE 24, Fabrice Delloye, Betancourt’s former husband, praised Sarkozy’s statement as a strong one. “He’s telling the FARC, ‘you have to release Ingrid’,” Delloye said “If you don’t, you are responsible in front of the entire international community and you are not going to have any consideration for a place in history or in Colombian politics.”
A new sense of urgency
Speaking from Bogota, Stephen Ambrus, FRANCE 24 correspondent in Colombia, warned that “this could be a huge step forward if the FARC agreed and that’s still a huge if.”
This is not the first time that the French president has appealed directly to the FARC but it shows a new sense of urgency.
Fourty-six-year-old Betancourt is said to be gravely ill after six years in captivity in the Colombian jungle. She’s reportedly been on a hunger strike since February 23 and is said to be suffering from hepatitis B and from a skin condition.
“Diplomatically, France has a potentially big role to play,” says Georgian Armen, FRANCE 24’s international news editor. “International mediation efforts slowed down after Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, was sacked by the Colombian authorities.”
Aside from Betancourt, the FARC is believed to be holding more than 700 other people hostage in the jungles of Colombia, including three U.S. defense contractors. Betancourt is part of 39 hostages considered “political” that the FARC want to exchange for 500 emprisoned guerillas.