April 1st, 2008 13:41 EST
French given permission to see hostages
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe says he has agreed to a French request to let an international mission try to meet with hostages held by leftist rebels, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt.
President Uribe said Tuesday the humanitarian mission would try to check on the health of the captives who have been in the custody of the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. He said that once the military knows the coordinates of any meeting between the rebels and the mission, military operations in the zone will be suspended.
Mr. Uribe made his remarks after speaking by phone with his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy. Earlier, the French leader made a televised appeal for the FARC to free Betancourt, who has been held since 2002. He said Betancourt, who is said to be ill with hepatitis B and a skin condition caused by insect bites, is in danger of dying.
Betancourt holds joint French-Colombian citizenship. She is among a group of high-profile hostages who the FARC wants to exchange for hundreds of imprisoned rebels.
The French Foreign Ministry says it had been in negotiations for the release of Betancourt with a FARC leader, Raul Reyes, who was killed last month during a Colombian military attack on a jungle hideout in neighboring Ecuador.
Mr. Sarkozy has said he will personally go to Colombia to get Betancourt if she is released. The FARC is holding at least 700 people in secret jungle camps for ransom or political leverage. Three Americans are among them.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.