March 30, 2008 / 12:33 PM / 12 years ago

France offers plane if Betancourt released

PARIS (Reuters) - France said on Sunday it was ready to evacuate French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt in the event of a deal between Colombia and rebels holding her.

A spokesman for President Nicolas Sarkozy said a plane with medical facilities would be kept on standby in France ready to intervene “at any time” on Sarkozy’s orders.

Colombia said on Saturday France would be willing to take in former guerrilla fighters as part of a possible deal to free scores of hostages, including Betancourt.

The proposal is part of a package of offers President Alvaro Uribe has made to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in an effort to prompt rebels to free kidnap victims held for as long as 10 years in secret jungle camps.

France, Spain and Switzerland are engaged in efforts to broker a deal to swap rebel fighters for hostages.

Pressure for that is building after details emerged indicating former presidential candidate Betancourt is gravely ill after six years in captivity.

“I hope the conditions are there for her release but we have no new information on that this evening,” French Prime Minister Francois Fillon told TF1 television on Sunday.

“France will do everything it can for her release.”

Hopes for a deal were raised briefly when Sarkozy’s office said earlier on Sunday that a Falcon 900 private jet, part of a French government fleet, had been “pre-positioned” in French Guyana with medical equipment.

A grainy photograph of the plane appeared in Sunday newspaper Journal du Dimanche.

“The fact that there is a medical plane there ready to intervene is an exit door for the FARC and a chance for life for Ingrid,” Betancourt’s sister Astrid told TF1.

But a local military official said that this first plane had left again early on Sunday, two days after arriving at the military base of Rochambeau.

“(It) came on a training mission,” the official at the French Guyana Armed Forces High Command told Reuters in the capital Cayenne.

Sarkozy’s office said the next medical standby plane would be kept on a state of alert in mainland France.

There was no immediate explanation of the decision to keep the first deployment in French Guyana short or to revert to a plane held in France rather than at a base near Colombia.

Reporting by Gerard Bon, Gwenaelle Barzic; editing by Giles Elgood

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