Publicity undermines Colombian mission, says Swiss diplomat
10 April 2008
GENEVA – European efforts to reach ailing Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt were partly undermined by the publicity surrounding the mission, a senior Swiss diplomat said Wednesday.
“All this noise is probably not very helpful when you want to reach a humanitarian accord,” said Thomas Greminger, whose foreign ministry department supplied two members of the mission.
He told journalists at a news briefing in Geneva that no single party was to blame for the failure to get permission from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to visit Betancourt. The former Colombian presidential candidate has been held captive by the group since 2002.
Greminger, who heads the neutral country’s global peace-building efforts, said quiet diplomacy might have achieved more than the high-profile mission launched last week in the wake of reports that Betancourt is close to death.
French, Spanish and Swiss officials flew to the South American country last Wednesday in an attempt to reach Betancourt, who also holds French citizenship and whose fate has become a cause celebre in France. The Swiss contingent comprised a diplomat and a professor with close ties to Colombia.
The FARC refused the request, demanding that the Colombian government first demilitarise two counties before it would consider further steps to release the hostages.
“For us discretion is an absolutely key element,” Greminger said, adding that leaks have plagued international efforts to negotiate a humanitarian agreement between the Colombian government and rebel groups. Such an agreement, involving the swap of hostages for rebel prisoners, is seen as a first step toward a formal peace deal.
“There was public diplomacy where quiet diplomacy would have been a lot more successful,” Greminger said.
One of the difficulties surrounding the negotiations with the FARC has been the limited contact outsiders have had with the group since its public spokesman was killed on 1 March.
“We have channels of communication,” Greminger said, but added that reaching the rebels was more difficult than before.
Switzerland, which has been involved in facilitating talks in Colombia since 2001, will continue its efforts despite the latest setback, he said.
“This is a process that has ups and downs,” Greminger said. “One needs to be patient and not be discouraged by events such as what has now happened.”
[AP / Expatica]