Home News Ingrid Betancourt marks sixth year in rebels’ grip

Ingrid Betancourt marks sixth year in rebels’ grip

Published on 22/02/2008

   BOGOTA, February 22, 2008  - French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourtmarks Saturday her sixth year of jungle captivity in the hands of leftistrebels appearing physically weakened and mentally drained by her ordeal.   Betancourt has become the international face of Colombia's hostage crisis,with the governments of France and Venezuela drawn into failed bids to get theMarxist FARC rebels to free her and dozens of other captives.   Her family has been highly critical of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe'shandling of the hostage situation, fearing that he favors rescuing thehostages militarily rather than negotiating a deal with the guerrillas.   "There is an extreme sense of urgency and we must quickly get Ingrid out ofthe jungle," her mother, Yolanda Pulecio, said after a video emerged inNovember showing Betancourt looking despondent and extremely thin.   "I am in constant fear that the government will learn where Ingrid is andorder the army to launch bombs," she said.   Betancourt's family has been in frequent contact with the administrationsof French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Venezuelan counterpart HugoChavez, hoping they can mediate an exchange of hostages for rebel prisoners.   The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) want Uribe's governmentto release 500 prisoners in exchange for Betancourt, three American militarycontractors and 39 other high-profile hostages.   But the rebels and government have failed to agree on how to conduct theswap. The FARC want the government to demilitarize a huge swath of territory,a demand vehemently rejected by Uribe.   The FARC, which is considered a terrorist organization by the UnitedStates, European Union and Colombian government, has been accused oftrafficking cocaine and is estimated to hold more than 700 people hostage.   Uribe had named Chavez as a mediator last August, but the conservativeColombian leader withdrew his support three months later after his leftistneighbor ignored his request that he not speak directly to his generals.   Chavez has nevertheless continued to negotiate with the FARC, which handedtwo hostages, including Bentacourt's campaign manager Clara Rojas, to hisgovernment in January.   The unilateral release, and FARC's announcements this month that it wouldrelease four more hostages, has families of the other captives a glimmer ofhope.   "The FARC have opted this time for direct mediations with foreigngovernments like Chavez's," said Leon Valencia, director of the New RainbowFoundation, which specializes in peace issues.   "By favoring mediation with foreign governments, it is possible that theFARC release Ingrid to Sarkozy's government in exchange for an initiative totake them the off the European list of terrorist groups," he said.   Chavez has angered the Colombian government by urging the European Unionand Latin American nations stop branding the FARC terrorists, calling therebels a "real army" with a political project that deserves respect.