Colombia offers Farc hostage deal

Move follows concerns over the health of high profile captive Ingrid Betancourt.

    Farc fighters have been embroiled in a bitter war with the Colombian government [GALLO/GETTY]

    Betancourt is one of around 40 high-profile hostages, including three American defence contractors, whom the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) wants to exchange for 500 people held in Colombian prisons.


    The group is also holding hundreds of Colombian hostages.

    'Immediate release'


    "I am today calling on those holding doctor Ingrid Betancourt
    and the other hostages to liberate them, to make a big contribution
    to the country, to hear this cry from the heart of the Colombians," Uribe said in a televised address.


    "We will resolve their legal problems and offer financial compensation," Uribe said on Friday.

    "The government has joined the national and international cry that the life of Ingrid Betancourt be saved"

    Luis Carlos Restrepo, Colombia's peace commissioner

    In return for the hostages' freedom, those Farc fighters released would have to promise not to return to the ranks of the rebel group, AP reported.


    "It's enough that Ingrid Betancourt be immediately released for us to consider the humanitarian deal is on, enabling us to conditionally suspend the sentences of members of the rebel group," said Restrepo said.

    Wolmar Perez, the Colombian human rights ombudsman, said on Thursday that the government had obtained reports that Betancourt, who was captured by the group six years ago, was in "very, very delicate" health, suffering from malnourishment and possibly hepatitis B.


    The Farc reportedly took her for treatment to a first aid station in a jungle town controlled by the group in March, Perez said.

    On Friday, Fabrice Delloye, Betancourt's ex-husband, praised the move as a "positive step" but called on Restrepo to be more specific about when and where the two sides would meet for negotiations.
    Al Jazeera's Monica Villamizar says that Betancourt remains the Farc's biggest bargaining chip and it had been unclear whether they would be interested in letting her go and gaining nothing in return.
    However if her condition has worsened and anything were to happen to her, the Farc could be blamed by the world who is watching her plight closely, our correspondent adds.
    Prisoner swap


    Efforts to mediate a prisoner swap between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) and the Colombian government faltered after Colombia's cross-border raid on a Farc camp in Ecuador on March 1 killed one of the group's senior leaders and several other fighters.


    The Farc released several hostages
    earlier this year [AFP]

    Uribe has also rejected Farc demands that a large, populated area in the west of the country be demilitarised as the possible site of negotiations and a prisoner exchange.


    The group released two women hostages in January and four more Colombian ex-politicians in February, following mediation efforts by Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president.

    France has urged Farc to accept the offer from Bogota.
    "We call on the Farc to seize without delay this opportunity at a crucial moment," Frederic Desagneaux, foreign ministry deputy spokesman, said. "She must urgently be freed."


    The Farc have been fighting a bitter four-decade civil war against the Colombian government, accusing it of oppressing the country's poor.


    The government in turn accuses the group of extortion and profiting from drug-trafficking.


    Thousands have been killed in the fighting.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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