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The gateway to ‘FARC territory’

Latest update : 2008-04-04

San Jose is drawing a sudden rush of visitors in the wake of the French medical mission to help save FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt. But residents wonder about the fates of hundreds of other, overlooked FARC hostages.

The airstrip at San Jose airport is busy as usual with Colombian military planes landing and taking off at this charming Colombian town about 400 kilometers south of the capital of Bogota.


San Jose serves as a gateway to the country’s dense jungles, where Colombian troops are waging a pitched battle against leftist FARC guerrillas.

But this week, the San Jose airport has been unusually busy with the arrival of journalists landing here to cover the French- led medical mission that hopes to get help to French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt.


Kidnapped in 2002, Betancourt has been one of the FARC’s most high profile hostages. In recent days, international as well as domestic attention has refocused on the case following reports of Betancourt’s deteriorating health.


Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has promised to suspend military operations in the area to help the French medical team locate and treat Betancourt.


It’s a story that has interested the Colombian press.

“The whole of the colombian press is working to get information and also to put on pressure for Ingrid Betancourt to be released,” said Wilber Correa Mahecha, a Colombian TV journalist.


Betancourt was last seen in the San Jose region

A small town of about 50,000 inhabitants, San Jose was suddenly put in the spotlight when it emerged that Betancourt had been last seen in the neighbouring area, just a few weeks ago.

Local authorities say they are ready to help in any potential mission:

"We have not received any information of an official nature,” said Marco Serna, San Jose’s deputy mayor. “The municipal and provincial authorities would very much like to know how we can help."


Ah, yes, Betancourt – but what about the other hostages?


But out on the streets of San Jose, the French mission is not quite the hot topic.

“Ah yes,” says a resident at a local café when asked about the mission. “I know, yes - a plane is supposed to be coming from France, directly here.”

San Jose residents for the most support the French initiative. But they also stress that Betancourt is not the only hostage being held.

“There's a lot of talk about Ingrid, and the condition she's in,” says a resident taking a break in a city park. “But I think the same degree of priority should be granted to all the hostages.”

Indeed there are hundreds of people kept captive in the jungle, many of them held for years already. But unlike Betancourt, there is scant international attention on their plight as the FARC guerrillas continue to wage their insurgency in the vast swathes of Colombia’s dense jungles.


Date created : 2008-04-04