Farc hostage families still waiting

International team might celebrate new year before meeting released hostages.


There was no movement at Villavicencio as the wait entered its fourth day [AFP]

The release of three hostages held for years in Colombia by communist revolutionaries continues to be delayed, with co-ordinators suggesting they might return to their home nations to see in the new year while they wait for instructions.

The delay entered its fourth day on Monday with a Venezuelan helicopter team still on standby in Villavicencio, Colombia, to collect the trio who have been held by Farc. They are expected to be freed under a deal struck by Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president.

Officials say they are in constant contact with the armed group, but that it was not possible to complete the operation. Farc is yet to provide an exact jungle location for the collection of the captives, and some argue that the media attention surrounding the handover is making the hold-up worse.

The mother of Clara Rojas, right, 
waits in Caracas [AFP]

“We don’t have the time to start and finish the operation today,” a senior government official said.

Others involved in planning the handover said there was still time for the Farc to say where it is keeping Consuelo Gonzalez, Clara Rojas and her son Emmanuel, who was fathered by a guerrilla fighter and is thought to be four-years old.

Ivan Rojas, a brother of politician Clara, told Al Jazeera that he is patient and that his family has waited for five years for this moment.

“The most important thing is that everything goes well, even if it is delayed a few days,” he said.

A team of international observers who had arrived in Villavicencio on Saturday from Caracas, met on Sunday behind closed doors with Luis Carlos Restrepo, Colombia‘s high commissioner for peace.

Monica Villamizar, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Villavicencio, said that the delegation that includes filmmaker Oliver Stone will possibly fly back to their home countries to spend the new year with their families and come back to Villavicencio only when they have precise information on the handover location.

Nestor Kirchner, the former Argentine president, and representatives from Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, France and Switzerland are also among the delegation.

Villavicencio is a gateway to southern jungles where the Farc controls wide areas used to produce the cocaine that funds its movement. The group is holding more than 700 people for ransom and political leverage.

Operation Emmanuel

Chavez initially hoped to have the hostages freed on Thursday. He sent two helicopters into Colombia on Friday dubbing the mission Operation Emmanuel, but they remained grounded in Villavicencio at the foot of the Andes mountains waiting to learn the location of the captives.

Colombian police patrol around the Venezuelan
aircraft waiting at Villavicencio [AFP]

The handover could take place anywhere in a 310,000-square km wilderness in central and southeastern Colombia, where there are few roads but numerous landing strips used by drug traffickers.

Colombia’s Civil Defence has made available a 100-strong search and rescue team of indigenous Colombians.

Should the handover take place, it would be the first hostage releases by Farc in more than five years.

Chavez will not take part in the rescue party, but he plans to receive the freed hostages in Venezuela with 15 of their relatives who have travelled to the capital.

Gonzalez was taken hostage in 2001, while Rojas was captured a year later.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies