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Chavez's hostage recovery mission in Colombia on standby, waiting for rebels

Chavez's hostage recovery mission in Colombia on standby, waiting for rebels

A mission to retrieve three rebel-held hostages from Colombia's jungles was on standby Saturday, with filmmaker Oliver Stone and observers from eight countries waiting for the guerrillas to give the pickup point's coordinates to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Flanked by Stone and wearing the red beret from his paratrooper days, Chavez dispatched two helicopters to this central Colombian city on Friday, where they're now idled.
Colombia's U.S.-allied government agreed to allow the helicopters into its territory to pick up former congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez, hostage Clara Rojas and her young son, Emmanuel, the result of a relationship with a guerrilla father.
The women have been held captive by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, for about six years.
But family members of the hostages and international observers gathered in Caracas on Saturday were still waiting for the one detail on which the entire mission hinges: the exact location in a France-size section of Colombia's eastern jungle where the hostages will be fetched.
"We still do not have the coordinates from the FARC," said Yves Heller, a spokesman in Bogota for the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is coordinating the mission.
A high-ranking Colombian official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, told The Associated Press that the mission could extend beyond the Sunday evening deadline set to complete what Chavez is calling "Operation Emmanuel."
Brazilian observer Marco Aurelio Garcia said the delegates expect to pick up the hostages "at the latest (Sunday) morning." If the operation is delayed further, it would alter the terms for the participation of the international commission, many of whose members had planned to return home for the New Year's holiday, he said.
The FARC rebels announced this month they would unilaterally release the three hostages to Chavez as a goodwill gesture and in appreciation of the firebrand leftist's attempts to broker a wider swap of 44 hostages _ including three U.S. defense contractors and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt _ for hundreds of jailed rebels.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe abruptly ended that mediation effort last month, saying Chavez overstepped his mandate by contacting the head of Colombia's army.
Family members of the hostages have nonetheless been urging Chavez on, seeing him as the only intermediary capable of breaking through a five-year standoff between the hermetic FARC and Uribe, whose father was killed by the guerrilla group.
Since Uribe took power in 2002, the two sides have never held face-to-face talks.
So far, however, the rebels' gesture has failed to soften Uribe's hardline position.
"This is not a game of tennis," peace commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo said on Friday, reiterating his government's refusal of the FARC's demand for a vast safe haven in southern Colombia to hold talks on a prisoner swap.
Stone, an admirer of Chavez, said he plans to accompany the mission, which is expected to relocate Saturday afternoon to Villavicencio.
"It's wonderful. I've never been in such a thing," Stone said Friday alongside Chavez. "I'm very proud to be a part of this."
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Associated Press writers Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, and Fabiola Sanchez in Santo Domingo, Venezuela, contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-06-25 01:40 GMT+08:00