Chavezís Colombian Hostage Rescue Mission Halted

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 2 January 2008

A mission led by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to free three hostages held in Colombia by the country's left-wing FARC guerrillas was suspended yesterday.

According to Mr Chavez, the FARC said the planned release was not possible because of the Colombian government's military operations. Mr Chavez, who had gathered an international cast of diplomats as well as the film director Oliver Stone to observe the operation, said Colombia's right-wing president Alvaro Uribe had sabotaged the rescue plan. "Uribe went to dynamite the third phase of this operation," Mr Chavez said, referring to Mr Uribe's arrival on Monday to the town of Villavicencio, the staging area for the transfer. Mr Chavez vowed that "the operation will continue," adding that efforts to secure the hostages' freedom were "ongoing".

The hostages to be released were Clara Rojas, 44, captured during her 2002 vice presidential campaign; Rojas's son, Emmanuel, 3, fathered by one of her captors; and former lawmaker, Consuelo GonzŠlez, 57, snatched the year before. Fifteen members of the hostages' families had been waiting in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.

In a further twist to a story that has captured the international media's attention, President Uribe accused the FARC of lying, and said one of the hostages, 3 year old Emmanuel, may actually be in a children's home in the Colombian capital, Bogota. "The Farc can't keep the promise to free the hostages because they no longer have the child, Emmanuel, in their power," Mr Uribe said. Mr Uribe has asked relatives of Ms Rojas for DNA samples to prove that a three-year-old boy in the Colombian capital is really the missing Emmanuel.

A statement issued on the FARC's website has denied that the boy was not in its care and accused the Colombian government of launching a "ball of smoke" to divert attention from the real reason for the operation's collapse: Uribe's intransigence.

The FARC's pledge to release the three hostages came shortly after the Uribe government had terminated an effort by President Chavez to mediate the release of hostages held by the FARC. Colombia approved the renewed role for Chavez, and he began orchestrating a complex operation in which Venezuelan helicopters would fly deep into FARC-controlled territory to pick up the hostages. The FARC is reported to hold more than 750 hostages, including three U.S. Defense Department contractors.

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