French first lady marches for Colombia hostage Betancourt
Carla Bruni-Sarkozy joined thousands of people in a solemn march in Paris Sunday to call for Colombian rebels to release ailing former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.
PARIS, April 7, 2008 - French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy joined thousands of people in a solemn march in Paris Sunday to call for Colombian rebels to release ailing former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner took part alongside Argentina's visiting
President Cristina Kirchner, who has backed France's efforts to secure the
release of the 46-year-old, a joint French-Colombian national.
France, Switzerland and Spain Wednesday sent a joint medical mission to
Bogota to help Betancourt, rumoured to be seriously ill after six years in
captivity. Paris says the mission will stay put until the rebel Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) give a response on granting it access.
"People ask if we are going to give up this humanitarian mission. We will
never give up," Kouchner told several thousand demonstrators from the steps of
the Paris opera, where a banner was unfurled reading "Free Ingrid Now".
Similar marches were held Sunday in some 20 other French cities in support
of Betancourt, whose children Lorenzo and Melanie Delloye have led a
high-profile campaign to highlight her plight in France.
"My mother is very sick. It is only a question of weeks. So please, turn
out in numbers," Lorenzo said in a video shot to rally support for the marches.
Bruni-Sarkozy told journalists she had been "touched" by the family's
"I can tell you that my husband will not give up," she added.
Many of the participants wore white t-shirts and armbands, and in the
southeastern city Toulouse, marchers released a clutch of white balloons as a
"symbol of peace and hope."
Around 1,000 people, also wearing white, staged a march on the
Mediterranean port of Marseille, with smaller demonstrations in Montpellier,
Avignon, Nice, and the Corsican city of Bastia.
There were also gatherings in Chambery in the French Alps, which made
Betancourt an honorary citizen in 2002, in the central city of
Clermont-Ferrand and the wine capital Bordeaux.
Betancourt is being held at an unknown location in the southeast of the
country. According to Colombian reports and witness accounts, she has been
refusing food and medical care from the FARC from the past five weeks.
"Ingrid's state of health makes us fear the worst," said Herve Marro,
spokesman for Betancourt's support committee in France.
Marro dismissed suggestions the humanitarian mission to Colombia had hit a
dead-end: "It is not blocked: this is just a beginning, and we are sure that
with boldness and conviction it will succeed."
A French Falcon 50 airplane has been on standby at a military airport in
Bogota since Thursday, waiting to carry the international medical team to
treat Betancourt should her captors allow it.
Bogota has agreed to suspend military operations against the FARC to allow
the deployment of the medical team, if it informs it exactly where it is
But the FARC reiterated Thursday in a statement that no hostages would be
released without a prisoner swap.
Betancourt is among 39 high-profile hostages, including three US defence
contractors, who FARC wants exchanged 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.