Farc hostage handover delayed

International team waiting for location from Colombian rebels to recover captives.

    International observers led by Nestor Kirchner, centre, remained grounded [Reuters]

    A rescue mission negotiated by Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, to recover three hostages held by left-wing rebels in Colombia was delayed for a second day on Saturday after not being given the coordinates for the handover from the captors.

    However, Monica Villamizar, Al Jazeera's correspondent in the central Colombian town of Villavicencio, where the rescue team is grounded, said an anonymous source told her that the Venezuelan authorities do now have the GPS co-ordinates.

    Villamizar said that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which is leading the international mission to ensure it is humanitarian rather than political, now have to go through with a number of international standard protocol before getting to the handover location.

    "We are not sure how long this will take, but we do know the Venezuelan authorities have this information," Villamizar said.

    Foreign envoys flew to the central Colombian town of Villavicencio which acts a gateway to areas of jungle in southern Colombia that are controlled by Farc but the handover of the three captives was not expected until Sunday.

    "The hostages will not be released today for a very simple reason. It gets dark at 1800 hours," a diplomat in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, told the AFP news agency, saying that the ICRC was not authorised to operate in the Colombia at night-time.

    Clara Rojas has been in
    captivity since 2002 [AFP]
    Ramon Rodriguez, the Venezuelan government organiser of the rescue plan, said he did not know when Farc would give the geographic co-ordinates of the handover point.

    "I hope to know them soon," he said.

    Venezuelan officials are still waiting for the guerrillas to disclose where they will release Consuelo Gonzalez, a former politician, Clara Rojas, a former aide to Ingrid Betancourt, an ex-Colombian presidential candidate, and her four-year-old son Emmanuel who was conceived in captivity.

    'Operation Emmanuel'

    Chavez negotiated the rescue effort with Farc and initially hoped to have the hostages freed on Thursday.

    He was told last month to stay out of negotiations with Farc by Alvaro Uribe, Colombia's conservative president.

    But Chavez opened informal talks until guerrilla leaders agreed to turn the hostages over to him, or someone designated by him.

    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.

    The international delegation in Villavicencio includes Nestor Kirchner, the former president of Argentina, representatives from France, Switzerland, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia, as well as Oliver Stone, the US film director.

    Kirchner told reporters that he was prepared to get in the helicopter and go to recover the hostages, saying that the operation was not simply a media exercise.

    Jungle knowledge

    Villamizar reported that there is a deadline on the handover of 7pm on Sunday, but this is negotiable.

    Chavez will welcome the hostages in
    Caracas if they are released [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 "who know the jungle very well," Jorge Diaz, the civil defence director for Villavicencio, said.

    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 relatives of the long-time captives who have travelled to the capital.

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

    Alan Felipe Jara, the son of a Farc hostage held for more than six years and kidnapped when Jara was seven-years old, said: "It is very important that these three hostages are released because I really feel that this could help with the prisoner exchange.

    "I think that it is probable that they [the three hostages to be released] have been with my dad and they could bring with them a message for me from him, and I have a hope that they could tell us something."

    Jara said that the prisoner exchange was a "dream come true" for his family due to seven years of suffering, but that they would like it to progress quicker via the Farc and Colombian government speeding up talks.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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