France calls off Colombia hostage mission

France abandoned a mission to treat Colombian rebel hostage Ingrid Betancourt in her jungle camp on Tuesday after guerrillas rejected the initiative in a setback to attempts to free scores of captives.

France calls off Colombia hostage mission
The rejection was a disappointing blow to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has made it a priority to secure the freedom of the dual French-Colombian citizen kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, while campaigning for the presidency in 2002.

Sarkozy said in a statement he was "deeply disappointed" and his foreign minister would travel to the region soon. Paris said the medical mission, backed by Spain and Switzerland, would leave Colombia shortly.

"France will stay fully mobilized to ensure the hostages return to life and to their families," Sarkozy said.

Betancourt, three Americans and dozens of politicians, police and soldiers are among 40 political captives whom the FARC says it wants to exchange for jailed fighters. But the guerrillas and government are deadlocked over a hostage deal.

The French medical mission flew into a Bogota air base on Thursday to treat Betancourt, who is believed to be sick after more than six years in captivity. But the mission was in doubt from the start as Paris had no prior deal with the rebels.

"The French medical mission is not reasonable and even less so when it was not the result of any agreement," the FARC said in a statement dated April 4 and posted on a Web site that often carries rebel communiques.

"We do not respond based on trickery or media campaigns," the rebel statement said.

Colombia's four-decade-old conflict has eased under President Alvaro Uribe, a Washington ally who has used billions of dollars in U.S. aid to fight Latin America's oldest surviving insurgency and the cocaine trade.

In their statement, the rebels stood by their demand that Uribe demilitarize a New York City-sized area around two rural towns, Florida and Pradera, to facilitate a prisoner swap.

Uribe, a conservative who is popular for driving back the rebels, has rejected the condition because he says it would allow the FARC to regroup. He has offered a smaller zone under international observation for any handover.

Last Mod: 09 Nisan 2008, 12:19
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