David Beriain, a Spanish reporter who spent 10 days with FARC rebels in the Colombian jungle, says the guerrilla group shows no sign of weakening - or of releasing Ingrid Betancourt.
Despite recent activity in the effort to free FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt – including an offer by Colombia to release FARC prisoners and an optimistic French aid mission to the region – on the ground things are not looking good for the French-Colombian politician, according to a Spanish journalist just returned from the Colombian jungle.
David Beriain, a reporter for the Spanish website ADN. es, said negotiations between France and the FARC appear to be at an impasse. He spent tendays in the jungle in northern Colombia – in the zone known as Magdalena Medio, right in the heart of the FARC guerrilla stronghold.
His hosts, FARC guerrillas under the leadership of Pastor Alape, a senior FARC commander, told Beriain they were disappointed in the government’s response to their recent release of several hostages. "What they told me was that they'd freed six hostages and the government hasn't done anything. In other words, freeing hostages hasn't done them any good at all,” said Beriain.
Questions about Betancourt's health
Beriain also asked Pastor Alape about Betancourt’s health. “I asked if she was really that ill, and the camp commander said that yes, she was ill, but only because conditions were tough. And I asked some questions about rumours of her death. He said no, these rumours are totally without foundation."
Pastor Alape also told Beriain: "It's not as though we don't have feelings any more. Most Colombians have health problems. I think the debate over Ingrid Betancourt's health should also make us aware of and discuss the health of Colombians."
One of the guerrillas, sitting on a log in the jungle camp with a rifle over his knees, said he had little sympathy for the hostages. "They're part of the system, the State. I cannot ask them for forgiveness. Because they are all involved in this war."
Despite the recent deaths of two FARC leaders – including Raul Reyes – in operations by the Colombian army, Beriain says the guerrilla organisation is showing no sign of weakening – or of moving closer to releasing Betancourt.
"I was in contact with a source close to the guerrillas. And I said, 'There's so much movement, there has to be something going on'. And he replied, 'David, everyone's getting ready for the ball, but quite honestly, there just isn't any music here.'"
10 days in the jungle
Beriain left for Colombia in mid-January, and spent two and a half months trying to negotiate his way into the rebel camp. “I’m not sure myself why they said yes,” he said. His aim was to try and find out what was happening to Betancourt and the other hostages held by the FARC. The Betancourt’s case has been a particular preoccupation of France and its president, Nicolas Sarkozy.
After he gained permission, he traveled for three days on foot and horseback, covering a distance of 120 km to reach the camp. There he was able to eat, sleep, and live among the guerillas.
The guerrillas are listening to news updates and internal communiqués, according to Beriain. The same ritual is repeated every day.
Indeed, Beriain noted that despite reports to the contrary, the rebels have no shortage of equipment, food, and provisions. “One day I saw the FARC's secretariat, which is their directorship, contact all the camps by radio. He was in simultaneous contact with all of them, which proves that they have the capacity to communicate, even though the Uribe government says this is not the case.”
Date created : 2008-04-16