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Colombian rebels say French president can help secure Betancourt's release

Colombian rebels say French president can help secure Betancourt's release

French President Nicolas Sarkozy can help secure the release of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three American hostages held by leftist guerrillas, a rebel commander said in an interview published Thursday.
Sarkozy should push President Alvaro Uribe to cede the rebels an 800-square kilometer (300-square-mile) safe haven where talks would be held on exchanging hostages for jailed rebels, the guerrilla commander said. Uribe has repeatedly rejected the proposal.
Sarkozy's "efforts to advance this proposal will be definitive in bringing home Ingrid" and the other hostages, said Raul Reyes, a commander and spokesman for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, on the pro-rebel Web site ANNCOL.
Betancourt, who has dual French-Colombian citizenship, was kidnapped in 2002 while campaigning in southern Colombia.
Shortly after taking office last week Sarkozy met with Betancourt's daughter, Melanie Betancourt, in Paris. The French president spoke by telephone with Uribe last week and reiterated France's desire the Colombian government seek a negotiated release of the prisoners and refrain from any use of force.
The FARC seeks to exchange about 60 so-called political prisoners, including Betancourt and three American military contractors, for hundreds of jailed rebels.
In the interview, Reyes reiterated the FARC's "unwavering determination" to seek a prisoner exchange, while acknowledging the prospects for such a deal with hard-liner Uribe remain distant.
Uribe recently said he was willing to unilaterally free hundreds of rebels as a good-faith gesture to jump-start talks over the exchange. The proposal was dismissed by Reyes last week as a "smoke screen" to divert attention from a scandal linking government supporters to right-wing paramilitary militias.
Last week, an escaped hostage said that he was held with Betancourt and the American captives in a jungle camp before escaping his captors on April 28.
Police officer Jhon Frank Pinchao said Betancourt was bound with a metal chain around her neck for months at a time in retaliation for at least five escape attempts.
Uribe said the FARC "concentration camps were worse than those of the Nazis" and ordered his military to intensify efforts to free the hostages, an option Betancourt's family says could end in a bloodbath.
Reyes did not mention Pinchao's escape in the interview.
The three American hostages are Northrop Grumman Corp. contractors who were seized in 2003 when their small plane crashed in Colombia's cocaine-producing southern jungles. They were on a counter-narcotics mission partly financed by more than US$700 million (euro520 million) in annual aid from the United States.
Formed in the 1960's, the FARC is Latin America's oldest and most potent insurgency, with more than 12,000 fighters.


Updated : 2021-10-18 23:10 GMT+08:00