French aid mission to leave for Colombia within 48 hours
French medical mission will leave for Colombia within 48 hours in hope of treating the hostage Ingrid Betancourt.
PARIS, April 2, 2008 - A French medical mission will leave for
Colombia within 48 hours in hope of treating the hostage Ingrid Betancourt,
after Bogota agreed to suspend military operations against her rebel captors,
an official said Wednesday.
An official close to the operation, announced Tuesday by President Nicolas
Sarkozy following telephone talks with his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe,
said it would leave later Wednesday or Thursday at the latest.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the team, which includes a
doctor, would set off "as soon as possible" in hope of gaining access to the
former Colombian presidential candidate, who also has French citizenship.
"We have high hopes. We have done all we humanly could, and now we need to
wait for our envoys, the doctor, to reach the field."
It was not known whether FARC rebels had agreed to give the French mission
access to Betancourt, who is being held at an unknown location in the
southeast of the country.
Colombia has agreed to suspend military operations there to allow the
deployment of the mission, but only if the French team informs it exactly
where it is headed.
A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in
Geneva said it was "prepared to play the part of neutral intermediary" to help
the French team gain access.
Sarkozy on Tuesday pleaded with FARC leader Manuel Marulanda to release
Betancourt, who has become a cause celebre in France due to high-profile
campaigning by her family and friends.
Captured in February 2002 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC) while campaigning for the presidency, Betancourt is thought to be
gravely ill after six years in captivity.
She is believed to be suffering from hepatitis B and leishmania, a skin
disease caused by insect bites. Videos seized from the rebels in November
showed her looking gaunt and frail.
According to Colombian reports and witness accounts, she has been refusing
food and medical care from the FARC from the past five weeks.
"Mother has launched a battle of wills with the FARC and president Uribe,"
her son Lorenzo Delloye told a press conference in Paris Wednesday. "Even as I
speak, my mother is hurtling towards death."
Delloye called on Uribe to ensure that Colombian troops "scrupulously
respect your ceasefire instructions and that the humanitarian mission sent by
France can bring assistance to my mother unhindered."
France last weekend put a plane and a medical team on standby in case
Betancourt she is freed.
Betancourt is among 39 high-profile hostages, including three US defence
contractors, whom the FARC wants to exchange for 500 rebels held in prison.
The Marxist guerrilla movement, which has been fighting the Colombian
government for more than 40 years, is believed to be holding more than 700
people hostage in the jungles of the Latin American state.