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Hostage rescue in Colombia collapses

Wednesday, January 2nd 2008 - 20:00 UTC
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Kirchner: 'observers would “continue their mission” once all conditions for the hostages' Kirchner: 'observers would “continue their mission” once all conditions for the hostages'

A Venezuelan-led mission to rescue three hostages, including a 3-year old boy, from leftist rebels in Colombia's jungles fell apart Monday as the guerrillas accused Colombia's military of sabotaging the promised handoff.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe dismissed the claim as a lie by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, instead suggesting the guerrillas could be backing out of the deal brokered by President Hugo Chavez because they don't have the boy hostage. "The FARC terrorist group doesn't have any excuse. They've fooled Colombia and now they want to fool the international community," Uribe said from the central Colombian city where Venezuela helicopters have been waiting since Friday for word from the guerrillas on where the hostages could be picked up. Uribe made the shocking suggestion that the guerrillas "don't dare to keep their promises because they don't have the boy, Emmanuel" â€" who the FARC announced two weeks ago they would free along with his mother, Clara Rojas, and former congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez. Uribe said his government had given Venezuela and the international Red Cross coordinating the mission every guarantee that its military would not obstruct the handover, even promising to create a cease-fire corridor to allow the rebels to escort their hostages through the France-sized jungles to the pickup point. Former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner and observers from France, Switzerland and four leftist Latin American governments abandoned Villavicencio on Monday, saying only in a terse statement they would "continue their mission" once all conditions for the hostages' release were met. "Shame on Colombia, shame on Uribe," Oliver Stone, the American filmmaker, told The Associated Press shortly before boarding one of three Venezuelan jets carrying the observers back to Caracas. Stone, who was invited by Chavez to document the handover, added "the FARC have no motive not to release these hostages." Uribe said a 3-year old child named Juan David Gomez, matching the description of Emmanuel provided by escaped hostages and suffering from malnutrition, malaria and jungle-born leishmaniasis, may have been living for the past two and a half years with at a foster home in Bogota. The child was turned over in the eastern city of San Jose del Guaviare, a FARC stronghold, in 2005 by a man who said he was the boy's great uncle and who now claims to be his father. The boy's mother was reported as disappeared, according to the child welfare agency case file read to journalists by peace commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo. The Colombian leader said only DNA tests were required to prove or disprove "this hypothesis" â€" which he said could be done as soon as the boy's grandmother returns from Caracas, where she was awaiting the handover of her daughter and grandson. The international Red Cross confirmed Uribe's claim that his government informed the humanitarian organization of the child's existence two days ago. "We were asked to keep this confidential and for the protection of the child, we respected the government's request," said Red Cross spokesman Yves Heller. Chavez welcomed the hostages' relatives to the presidential palace on New Year's Eve. "Nothing has finished," he told reporters. "We always said it was a process with many risks. ... The operation hasn't been stopped." Chavez said he hasn't eliminated the possibility the guerrillas will still give the coordinates to pick up the hostages. "We have a channel open with the FARC," he said. If Uribe happens to be right about the boy, "the FARC will have to explain to the world," Chavez said. Chavez said Uribe's offer of a demilitarized "corridor" doesn't make sense because it's unclear exactly where it was stretch between. "Uribe is lying," Chavez said, accusing him of "going today to Villavicencio to place a bomb" on the operation. Speaking earlier on state television, Chavez said the rebels wrote in a letter that "the military operational attempts in the zone impede us for now from turning over" the three hostages. The FARC letter said "insisting on (a handover) in these conditions would be putting at risk" the lives of hostages and guerrillas. The FARC are holding 44 high-profile hostages â€" including three American defense contractors and former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. The U.S.-allied Uribe has used some $600 million in annual military and intelligence aid from Washington to push the half-century-old insurgency deeper into the jungle.

Categories: Politics, Latin America.

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