A mission led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to retrieve three rebel-held hostages from Colombia's jungles is ready to go but cannot proceed until the guerrillas provide the location of the pickup, officials said Saturday.
Observers from eight countries and U.S. filmmaker Oliver Stone were gathered in the central Colombian city of Villavicencio along with two Russian-made helicopters that have been idled here ever since being dispatched by Chavez 24 hours earlier.
"Everything is ready, all we're waiting for are the coordinates," Ramon Rodriguez Chacin, a former Chavez minister and coordinator of the mission. He spoke to reporters at a Caracas airport shortly before sending off the observers from Argentina, Brazil, France and four other countries.
The hostage pickup is to take place in a France-size section of Colombia's eastern jungle and for the operation to be completed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, must give mission members the exact coordinates of the pickup.
Colombia's U.S.-allied government this week 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 FARC for about six years.
Chavez, speaking to Venezuelan state TV by phone from an undisclosed location, said he hopes what he's calling "Operation Emmanuel" can be completed Sunday or Monday. "Hopefully by midnight on the 31st" they'll be reunited with their families, he said.
Stone, an admirer of Chavez, said he plans to accompany the mission.
"I represent many progressives in America that would like to bring a change in the way we do business with the FARC and the government of Venezuela," said Stone on Saturday, shortly after arriving in Villavicencio on one of the three jets chartered by Chavez to transport the observers.
The FARC rebels announced this month they would unilaterally release the three hostages to Chavez 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.
Associated Press writers Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, and Fabiola Sanchez in Santo Domingo, Venezuela, contributed to this report.