Three-nation mission launched for Colombian hostage Betancourt

3rd April 2008, Comments 0 comments

A three-nation humanitarian mission has been launched to help French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt, who is believed to be gravely ill.

   PARIS, April 3, 2008 - A three-nation humanitarian mission has been
launched to help French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt, who is believed
to be gravely ill, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said Wednesday.
   But there was no guarantee that Betancourt's rebel captors would allow the
medical mission, which includes a doctor, to see the former Colombian
presidential candidate.
   Betancourt has spent six years in captivity in the jungle in the Latin
American nation.
   "A humanitarian mission by facilitators Spain, France and Switzerland has
begun, in liaison with the relevant authorities," said the statement from the
French presidency.
   According to one source close to the dossier, senior foreign ministry
diplomat and former ambassador to Bogota Daniel Parfait was on the plane that
left the Villacoublay military air base near Paris.
   With him was Noel Saez, a former French consul to Bogota, said the same
   Parfait is Betancourt's brother-in-law, as he is married to Astrid
Betancourt, the sister of the kidnapped senator. But Astrid Betancourt denied
her husband was part of the mission.
   "Daniel Parfait did not take the plane for Bogota because he is with me in
Paris," she said, without elaborating.
   Earlier Wednesday, Betancourt warned that it was by no means certain that
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) holding her sister would
cooperate with the new mission.
   "There have been exchanges of communications. We have to be certain that
our sources are reliable. There has been no concrete commitment on the part of
FARC," she told AFP.
   French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner remained upbeat however. "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," he said.
   Betancourt 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.
   Sarkozy on Tuesday pleaded with FARC leader Manuel Marulanda to release
Betancourt, saying he feared that she would soon die.
   "You who lead the FARC, you now have a rendezvous with history. Do not miss
it. Free Ingrid Betancourt and those of the other hostages who are weakest,"
Sarkozy said in a recorded address from the Elysee.
   Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's government has agreed to suspend
military operations against the FARC to allow the deployment of the mission,
but only if the French team informs it exactly where it is headed.
   In Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it was ready
if needed to act as a neutral intermediary in any hostage handover, as it has
done in the past.
   But it said that despite requests to FARC, it had received no information
about the hostages.
   Betancourt, a 46-year-old senator, 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.
   "Mother has launched a battle of wills with the FARC and President Uribe,"
her son Lorenzo Delloye told reporters. "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."
   Betancourt is among 39 high-profile hostages, including three US defence
contractors, 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.


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