- Title: VARIOUS: Colombia shows proof FARC hostages alive
- Date: 1st December 2007
- Summary: (W2) BOGOTA, COLOMBIA (NOVEMBER 30, 2007) (REUTERS) NEWS CONFERENCE WITH LUIS CARLOS RESTREPO, COLOMBIAN PEACE COMMISSIONER (SOUNDBITE) (Spanish) LUIS CARLOS RESTREPO, COLOMBIAN PEACE COMMISSIONER, SAYING: "We're dealing with five videos-- four of which say they were filmed on October 23 and 24 of 2007. There's video of Ingrid Betancourt Pulecio on the October 24, 2007 video."
- Reuters ID: LVA1ZOUNJ7LMCN7DSIX1RTUNBT5E
- Duration: 00:00:34
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- Topics: International Relations
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- Story Text: The Colombian government broadcast videos of kidnapped politician Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans in the first proof since 2003 that the high-profile rebel hostages were still alive at the end of October, 2007.
Gaunt and despondent, she sits in a ragtag shirt in the Colombian jungle, her long hair slung across one shoulder as she stares silently at the ground.
Grainy video images of Colombian-French politician Ingrid Betancourt, captured from leftist guerrillas who have held her for five years, on Friday revealed the grim conditions endured by kidnap victims in secret camps.
The Colombian government's broadcast of the five videos, some made in late October, is the first proof since 2003 that Betancourt, three Americans and a dozen kidnapped Colombians are still alive.
"We're dealing with five videos-- four of which say they were filmed on October 23 and 24 of 2007. There's video of Ingrid Betancourt Pulecio on the October 24, 2007 video," said Luis Carlos Restrepo, the Colombian Peace Commissioner at a news conference in Bogota.
The evidence was released a week after Bogota suspended efforts by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to broker a deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, to free its hostages -- some held for nearly a decade.
The failed talks triggered a diplomatic dispute between Venezuela and Colombia, but President Alvaro Uribe said on Friday he was willing to keep working with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to reach a hostage deal with the rebels.
"What is most important is that we have attained this proof of live. As I have said I was sure that she was alive, but we were still missing that proof of life. Now we have it. I'm thinking about her family, about all those who love her and are waiting for her. There is still a long way to go to be fully satisfied. I will have an interview with President Uribe in the next hours, but I must admit that for us it is a real encouragement," Sarkozy in Nice for a Franco-Italian summit.
A staunch ally to Washington, Uribe has received billions of dollars in U.S. aid to fight the rebels and the huge cocaine trade that helps fuel Latin America's oldest insurgency.
Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba, who had acted as a mediator with the FARC, said the captured videos had been meant for Chavez to see. But the French government said the leftist Venezuelan leader's mediating role was "a thing of the past." This view was not accepted by leader of the Betancourt Support Committee, Herve Marro.
"Our position is that this proof of life is a success of Hugo Chavez and Piedad Cordoba. The mediation has borne its fruits. They've given us the promise of proof of life, that promise was fulfilled and before the end of the year 2007 as stated," said Marro.
Authorities handed captured letters, photographs and audio recordings of hostages to relatives on Friday.
Weakened by Uribe's security campaign, the FARC have been driven back into the jungles, but they hold hundreds of hostages for political leverage and ransom. The guerrillas want to swap 50 key captives for jailed comrades.
In one of the videos, Betancourt, a former presidential candidate kidnapped in southern Colombia in 2002, sits despondently next to a wooden bench in a jungle clearing, her face etched with lines and her thin arms bared.
Other recordings show U.S. contract workers Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Howes looking fitter than Betancourt, standing with arms folded, brushing away bugs and talking to the camera without sound as an armed rebel stands nearby.
The three men were captured in 2003 when their light plane crashed while on a counter-narcotics mission.
Attempts to reach a hostage deal have been stymied by rebel demands that, to start talks, Uribe must pull troops from an area the size of New York City. Uribe, popular for his hardline stance, refuses saying it would allow the rebels to regroup.
"I only ask the President to reconsider - that he looks at how my daughter is, that he think of how it would be if it were his child - and that he help us. Take away all this pride, desire of violence, this hatred and please - I implore - that he reinitiates the mediation of President Chavez and Piedad Cordoba," said Yolanda Pulecio, mother of Ingrid Betancourt.
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- Embargoed:16th December 2007 12:00