Switzerland to help ailing Colombian hostage

3rd April 2008, Comments 0 comments

Son of the hostage Betancourt says she needs transfusion within hours to stay alive.

3 April 2008

PARIS – Switzerland, France and Spain have launched a delicate mission on Wednesday to help an ailing hostage held by Colombian rebels, the French president's office announced.

The one-sentence statement did not spell out how many people were participating in the mission, where it was headed or what it hoped to accomplish.

However, it came a day after president Nicolas Sarkozy said a mission to gain access to Ingrid Betancourt, held by Colombian rebels, would quickly get started. There was no indication at the time that other countries would take part.

Betancourt - who is both French and Colombian - has been held in a jungle for more than six years by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Officials have been tightlipped about details of the mission.

France-Info radio said an aircraft carrying at least three envoys took off Wednesday evening from the military airport of Villacoublay, outside Paris. Whether it was flying directly to Colombia or to a nearby country was not known.

Foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said earlier on Wednesday that a doctor was among those on the mission.

Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate, is among hundreds of hostages held by FARC but her release has become a cause celebre in France, further raising her profile.

Colombia has said it would suspend military operations where the mission was operating.

On Tuesday, Sarkozy appealed directly to the leader of FARC, Manuel Marulanda, for Betancourt's freedom, saying that without proper care her death was "imminent." His appeal was televised and subtitled in Spanish.

On Wednesday, Betancourt's son made his own appeal.

"This is my last appeal. There's no more time. Either we free mom and the other hostages or we'll lose them, and that's a question of hours," Lorenzo Delloye told reporters at a Paris news conference.

Delloye said his mother is suffering from hepatitis B and a skin disease that necessitate a blood transfusion "in the coming hours" or she could lose her life.

He said he had received the information about his mother's ailing health from a former FARC hostage, Luis Eladio Perez, who spent part of his captivity with Betancourt. Perez has said his last contact with Betancourt was 4 February.

Betancourt's health was further complicated by a hunger strike she undertook in February, Delloye claimed. He warned that knowing her, she would "keep going until the end'.'

Delloye said the mission is aimed at giving her urgent medical care then trying to win her freedom. He said he hoped the mission would also result in the release of other ailing hostages.

"We have done everything humanly possible. Now, we must wait until our special envoys, the doctor, get on the ground," the French foreign minister said earlier.

Colombia has agreed to allow the mission to try to access the jungle hideaway where Betancourt is being held, agreeing to suspend military operations in any area where the mission might travel.

A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross' Colombia branch said it was unable to provide information on Betancourt's health because its representatives had not been invited to visit rebel camps.

"As to whether or not she is dead or alive, the ICRC has simply not visited Ingrid Betancourt and we do not have further information on her condition," Yves Heller told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland.

French officials have said they had had contacts with at least one FARC leader - Raul Reyes, but he was killed last month in a Colombian cross-border strike on a rebel base in Ecuador.

French authorities have extended an offer to welcome rebel prisoners freed by Colombia in any eventual prisoner-hostage swap deal for Betancourt. Prime Minister Francois Fillon last week reiterated the offer, first put forth in December.

Spain also has played a backstage role, according to a diplomatic official in Madrid. Spain had been involved with talks "with pertinent authorities" for some months but these had been suspended until a recent re-start, said the official, who was not authorised to discuss the matter publicly and asked not to be named.

[AP / Expatica 2008]

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