Relatives of Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt voiced disappointment after FARC rebels holding her announced on Tuesday they would not permit a French medical mission to provide her with treatment. The guerillas refused to consider releasing the French-Colombian citizen who they have held captive for six years.
On Tuesday France's Foreign Ministry decided to pull out the government jet that had been waiting on a Bogota airstrip since April 3 after the FARC rebels released a statement announcing it would no longer unilaterally free captives. The Marxist guerrillas, who have been battling against the Colombian government for 40 years, said they did not "respond to blackmail or media campaigns." The rebels said that if Colombian President Alvaro Uribe had agreed to the FARC's demand for a 45-day demilitarized zone, then "Ingrid Betancourt and soldiers and the jailed guerrillas would now have regained their freedom."
"It feels like a bucket of cold water on our faces," her husband Juan Carlos Lecompte told Reuters on Wednesday. "It is very sad, but it was what we expected." In Paris the hostage's sister Astrid Betancourt told Agence France Presse that it was bad news but she felt the guerrillas had "left the door open for negotiations."
Betancourt's son Lorenzo Delloye told the French M6 TV channel that the FARC response was "very harsh and very cynical" in placing the blame on President Uribe "when they are the hostage-takers." He added that he still had hope, saying, "I am certain we will reach a solution," and he called on Uribe to end his "policy of war" and not to forget the people "who are rotting in the jungle." He was flanked by his father Fabrice Delloye who called on Uribe to make a gesture to avoid the entire world witnessing "the agony of Ingrid and the other hostages."
The French government mission had been organized after a flurry of rumors about Betancourt's health. Reports emerged that the FARC had taken her to be treated in rural clinics. Other hostages released by FARC this year said that she is seriously ill, and a video broadcast last year showed her looking gaunt and pale.
On Tuesday Betancourt's mother, Yolanda Pulecio, tried to reach out once more to the FARC despite the latest dashed hopes, paying a visit to rebel prisoners in a Bogota prison. Accompanied by former hostage Luis Eliardo Perez, she met with a high-ranking rebel Martin Sombra. "I hope they are receptive and we hope that we can advance," Perez told reporters after the meeting.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has made securing the release of the 46-year old Franco-Colombian politician a priority, but there is criticism that the hasty decision to send the medical team without some kind of arrangement with the rebels was ill-advised. The group is already feeling the pressure after its No. 2 leader, Raul Reyes, was killed by Colombian forces in Ecuador on March 1. Reyes had been leading negotiations with the French. The French newspaper Le Parisien described the last week as a "complete imbroglio," adding that the gulf was so wide between the two sides that "no one believed in an agreement."
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Wednesday that he would visit the region soon and insisted that France "would not abandon Betancourt."