Colombia politician's release urged

Ingrid Betancourt, ex-presidential candidate, is spending her fifth year as captive.

    Betancourt was last seen in a video released by
    the Colombian rebels in August 2003 [AP]

    Violence from Colombia's 40-year conflict has ebbed during Alvaro Uribe's US-backed security crackdown but families of kidnap victims like Betancourt fear his hardline policies leave little hope their relatives will be freed.
     
    "He should pay attention, be more considerate and accept a meeting with the guerrillas," Yolanda Pulecio, Betancourt's mother, said in Bogota.
     
    "Ingrid is caught up in this absurd war even though she wanted to do so much for Colombia."
     
    Kidnap victims
     
    Betancourt is among 61 hostages the Farc wants to exchange for jailed rebel commanders as an initial step toward peace talks, as are three US contract workers captured while on a drug-eradication mission in 2003.
     
    An estimated 3,170 kidnap victims are held by the Farc, the National Liberation Army, the second largest rebel group, and common criminals, according to government figures.
     
    The Farc, which began as a peasant army fighting for land reform in the 1960s but is now enmeshed in the cocaine trade, uses kidnappings for ransom and to gain political leverage.
     
    It has held dozens of police, soldiers and politicians for as long as nine years. Betancourt, 45, was an independent presidential candidate when she and Carla Rojas, her vice presidential hopeful, were seized on Februrary 23, 2002, while travelling in remote Caqueta province.
     
    She was last heard from in a video the rebels released in August 2003.
     
    Street protests
     
    Protesters and relatives held a mass and took to Bogota's streets on Friday carrying pictures of Betancourt and signs reading "No to Rescue through blood and fire" - a reference to Uribe's call for the military to rescue the hostages.
     
    In a surprise move, Uribe late on Friday authorised Lucy de Gechen, the wife of a senator kidnapped five years ago, to reach out directly to fighters in an effort to open negotiations over the release of hostages.
     
    Uribe had appeared more flexible since his landslide re-election victory in August.
     
    But a series of attacks blamed on the Farc at the end of last year scuttled moves toward negotiations, and Uribe had this week called for the military to intensify its hunt for rebels and rescue hostages by force.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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