January 7, 2008 / 7:47 PM / in 11 years

Colombia rules out more foreign hostage missions

By Hugh Bronstein

BOGOTA, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Colombia will allow no more international missions seeking the release of hostages held by leftist rebels after a Venezuela-led plan dissolved in a flurry of accusations last week, the government said on Monday.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, promised in December to turn three of its captives over to Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, a fellow leftist.

The mission to pick up the captives brought foreign envoys including former Argentine leader Nestor Kirchner to Colombia but it crumbled on New Year’s Eve with Chavez and the FARC accusing the government of ordering disruptive army operations in the area where the handover was to take place.

It turned out that one of the hostages, a young child named Emmanuel who was born in captivity to a kidnapped mother and a rebel father, had been quietly freed in 2005 and was living in a Bogota foster home. The revelation damaged the FARC’s credibility.

"The mission that the government of Venezuela organized left a bad taste," Foreign Minister Fernando Araujo told reporters, saying Colombia did everything possible to guarantee the success of the handover.

"They came to criticize the government and perhaps spread FARC propaganda," he said. "It was not a good experience. That’s why these missions must not be repeated."

Chavez has fallen out with conservative Colombian President Alvaro Uribe over the hostages but says he still wants to help release Clara Rojas, who is Emmanuel’s mother, and Consuelo Gonzalez, a lawmaker captured in 2001.

Chavez said on Sunday he was waiting for guerrilla leaders to communicate with him. The FARC, which took up arms four decades ago, is expected to insist that Chavez continue acting as mediator.

Uribe, whose father was killed in a botched FARC kidnapping in the 1980s, refuses rebel demands that he pull troops from a large southwestern rural area to allow the FARC to enter and swap dozens of high-profile hostages for jailed guerrillas.

The stalemate leaves some high-profile captives, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. anti-drug contractors, in limbo.

The FARC, estimated to have 17,000 fighters, funds its war through extortion and cocaine trafficking. It holds a total of about 750 hostages for ransom and political leverage. (Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Kieran Murray)

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