Members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) have also held three US contractors hostage since 2003.

 

"We are not playing around with those Farc bandits," Uribe said.

 

Sarkozy 'mocked'

 

Betancourt's family said that Nicolas Sarkozy, the newly-elected French president, spoke with Uribe on Thursday and met with Betancourt's two teenage children and their French father.

 

Betancourt's daughter, Melanie, interviewed on French television, said that Uribe was "mocking" Sarkozy by ordering the military operation.

 

She said that Sarkozy had told Uribe that "he firmly believed in a negotiated solution and in no case liberation by force".

 

"We are not playing around with those Farc bandits"

Alvaro Uribe, president of Colombia

"If you want to free someone by force, will you announce to the whole world?" she asked. When Farc hear helicopters approaching "the first thing they will do is execute their hostages. Does that seem logical?" she said.

 

Jean-Baptiste Mattei, a French foreign ministry spokesman, said military action "could put the lives of the hostages in danger".

 

In Bogota, Juan Carlos Lecompte, Betancourt's husband, said that Uribe's order puts the lives of all of the hostages at risk.

 

Farc members "have already told us that they will kill them. If there is a rescue attempt, they will kill them," he said.

 

Escape attempts

 

Farc have said they want to swap 56 of their blue-chip hostages – including military officers, provincial governors and mayors – for 500 jailed Farc members.

 

The three US contractors were captured after their plane crashed as they carried out anti-drug operations in February 2003.

 

Farc fighters captured Betancourt and an aide in 2002 as they attempted to drive to Farc's enclave.

 

Uribe's order came one day after a police officer who fled Farc after nine years of captivity told reporters that Betancourt had tried to escape five times.

 

John Frank Pinchao Blanco broke free from a Farc rebel camp and said Betancourt had been "severely punished" for her escape attempts.

 

Fernando Araujo, Colombia's foreign minister, and former Farc hostage for five years, publicly urged the hostages to seek opportunities to escape.