Rallies held for Colombia hostage

Prayers mark sixth anniversary of French-Colombian politician's ordeal.

    Betancourt's family attended a public mass
    on Saturday [AFP]
    Betancourt is being held in a secret jungle location by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).
    France, Spain, Switzerland and Venezuela are all involved in mediation attempts to free Betancourt and three Americans.
    Betancourt, 46, a dual French-Colombian citizen whose children live in Paris, was kidnapped in 2002 while campaigning for the Colombian presidency in the volatile jungle region.
    The three Americans were taken in 2003 when working on an anti-drug mission.
    Pope Benedict XVI gave an audience to Pulecio this month and her cause has been repeatedly highlighted by French officials visiting Latin America.
    'Jewel in the crown'
    Betancourt has become an international symbol for Colombia's hostages. However, it is feared that her raised profile has made her a prize asset for the Farc.

    General Freddy Padilla, commander of Colombia's armed forces, said last month: "Without justifying this atrocity by the Farc, the person who has most contributed to the fact that Ingrid has been turned in to this valuable merchandise, this 'jewel in the crown', and so put up obstacles to her freedom, is her mother and the way she has behaved."

    Uribe, right,  has been against a
    prisoner swap with the Farc [AFP]

    Juan Carlos Lecompte, Betancourt's husband, said that the family is being blamed because the government has been criticised for its reticence in negotiating with the rebels.
    "If we hadn't done anything, the government would not be feeling this pressure from around the world to make a deal with the Farc."
    Uribe's government has not held direct talks in the past six years with the Farc, who hold hundreds of hostages.
    Farc statement
    In January, Farc handed over two female hostages to Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, including Clara Rojas, who was caught with Betancourt when the two were travelling in southern Colombia.
    In a statement on Saturday the Farc confirmed four ailing hostages could soon be released to Chavez.
    The involvement of Chavez, an opponent of the US, in the deal has caused diplomatic tensions.
    He has called for the Colombian government, a US ally, and international bodies to give greater political recognition to the Farc, which the US calls a terrorist organisation.
    The Farc has said they are willing to release 44 hostages, including Betancourt, in a prisoner swap. But they cannot agree on pre-negotiation conditions with the government.
    A letter to Pulecio from Betancourt, made public in December, raised fears for her health.
    Betancourt said that she barely eats and is loosing hope.
    Lecompte said: "We know we don't have months or years to save her. We're talking days or weeks."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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