Colombia rebels reject release of ailing hostage
Rebels maintains hostages will only be released in exchange of prisoners; disregards European rescue team that was flown in Thursday morning.4 April 2008
BUENOS AIRES / CARACAS - Defying an international medical mission rushing to help a hostage they have held for six years, leftist Colombian rebels on Thursday rejected a unilateral release of ailing Ingrid Betancourt.
"People being held hostage in our camps will only be released as part of an exchange of prisoners," wrote two of the group's leaders - Rodrigo Granda, the so-called foreign minister of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and Jesus Santrich, a rebel commander.
The statement was published on the Venezuelan news portal Noticias 24.
The leaders did not mention the efforts on Thursday of a European medical team just arrived in Colombia to hasten medical aid to Betancourt, a dual French-Colombian citizen and one-time Colombian presidential candidate.
Betancourt suffers from Hepatitis B and Leishmaniasis, malaria and severe malnutrition, and last week was described by an eyewitness as suffering depression.
A Roman Catholic priest active in a jungle area in southern Colombia said she had "lost the will to live," was emaciated and wept when villagers spoke to her.
The team, put together by was hoping to receive jungle coordinates from FARC for the doctors, but FARC has given no signal that it will cooperate.
The FARC statement appeared rather to be a reaction to an offer by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe last week to exchange FARC prisoners for Betancourt's after her release.
An exchange of hostages for prisoners has been on the table for years, and the stumbling block has always been Uribe's unwillingness to create a demilitarised zone in southern Colombia as demanded by the rebels.
"It's not acceptable, that we are asked for another gesture of peaceful intention when all we have received is shameful, malicious responses to our honest offers of a political solution to our conflict," the statement said.
FARC has offered to swap 40 hostages including Betancourt, three US Americans, military officials, police officers and elected officials against 500 FARC prisoners, including two high-ranking FARC officials who have been extradited to the United States.
As part of the deal, FARC wants a demilitarised zone, but Uribe has rejected the proposal. Critics of a demilitarised zone say it would be exploited militarily by FARC, which holds sway over territory along the Venezuela border.
The European rescue team was coordinated by the French government with support from Spain and Switzerland. The French Air Force plane, a Falcon 50, arrived at the Catam military base in Bogota in the early hours of Thursday.
The mission includes two doctors charged with treating Betancourt. The French plane has an intensive care unit, machines to carry out blood transfusions and resuscitation, and a small operating theatre.
[dpa / Expatica]