Kouchner restarts bid to free Betancourt

The French foreign affairs minister faces a tough task in Colombia, where he hopes to strike a deal with the FARC to release Ingrid Betancourt, just as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he has lost contact with the rebels. (Story: E.Irvine)


Bernard Kouchner began his trip to South America with the hope of relaunching negotiations for the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt. But France, which wants to lower tensions in the region between Columbia, Venezuela and Ecuador, risks creating another setback in the case.

The French foreign affairs minister is scheduled to speak Monday in Bogota with Columbian president Alvaro Uribe, then with Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa in Quito on Tuesday before heading to Venezuela and  meeting with Hugo Chavez at the last stage of his visit in Caracas.

FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Bogota, Romain Langlois comments: “Kouchner is going to attempt to lower tensions between Bogota, Caracas and Quito, in order to create a diplomatic climate favourable to a negotiated solution to liberate the hostages.”

But Sunday, one of the FARC leaders, Ivan Marquez, confirmed in the Argentinian daily paper Perfil that “unilateral deliberations are over,” and added that Venezuelan president Chavez was the only hope for freeing Franco-Columbian hostage Ingrid Betancourt.

“A mini-Cold War”

Since the death of Raul Reyes on Mar.01, killed in a Columbian raid in Ecuadorian territory, negotiations have been at an impasse. “A mini-Cold War reigns in the Andian region,” says Romain Langlois.

But Sarkozy noted, during his televised interview last Thurday, that he “will not give up,” trying to “obtain the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt, abducted February 23rd, 2002 by the FARC. “I’m not saying we have done everything right, but we will get there.” The French president said.

At the beginning of April, Paris got a cold shower. The humanitarian mission that left to pick up Betancourt aboard a Falcon 50 was judged “inadmissible,” by the FARC. After accusing Sarkozy of being “naïve,” the FARC said that it would never act “under pressure of a media campaign.”

“Restore Hugo Chavez to his role as mediator”

Over the course of his tour of Latin America, the French diplomatic head, who had already spoken with presidents Chavez and Uribe in February without leading to any major advances, “could ask Uribe to restore Chavez to his role as mediator,” Romain Langlois explains.

But Kouchner must face two conceptions of the FARC conflict. “On one hand, Columbia sees it as a narco-terrorist organization that must be destroyed. On the other hand, Quito and Caracas consider it to be a political organization that should be negotiated with,” says Langlois.

The tensions between Bogota and Caracas have lessened since the Group of Rio Summit in Saint-Domingue on Mar. 07, when Chavez was able to show restraint in his remarks.

But Uribe, who in November accused Chavez of “naivete” in Columbian affairs, announced last week that he would oppose all mediation by Chavez.

Chavez declared Sunday that his government had “lost contact with the FARC’ and that negotiations of an accord for a prisoner exchange had “become quite complex.” Furthermore, Uribe reaffirmed last week his refusal to give the status of fighting force to the FARC, a hypothesis issued the evening before by his Ecuadorian counterpart Rafael Correa.

Bernard Kouchner should have even more difficulty bringing Bogota and Quito together. “Relations between Columbia and Ecuador have been extremely bad since the Columbian raid in Ecuador, FRANCE 24’s Langlois notes.

The visit to Quito will make it possible “to see the contact Correa has with the FARC. The Ecuadorians tell us that they have had contact,” French diplomatic sources say, admitting that the context of this trip “is not simple.”



Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning