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Monthly Archives: February 2008

Freed Colombian hostages recover from ordeal

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Four Colombian former lawmakers freed by FARC guerrillas spoke of their ordeal in the jungles of Colombia, as the daughter of Ingrid Betancourt, one of the remaining hostages, expressed her anguish.
Luis Eladio Perez, one of those released, told reporters in Caracas: "It's the greatest feeling: to be born again.
"You can't imagine the horrors of living seven years in the subhuman conditions we were kept," he added.
Perez and and the three other freed hostages — Gloria Polanco, Orlando Beltran and Jorge Gechem — were recovered Wednesday by Red Cross and Venezuelan officials and flown in on Venezuelan aircraft.
He explained he had survived a heart attack, three diabetic comas and a kidney malfunction because of tropical diseases.
He also said he feared for Betancourt, the most high-profile prisoner still held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and vowed to do all to have her freed as well.
Betancourt, a 46-year-old French-Colombian who was seized in 2002 as she campaigned for the Colombian presidency, was "very, very sick, physically and morally spent," he said, adding that he last saw her on February 4.
In Paris meanwhile, Betancourt's daughter Melanie Delloye expressed her concern at Perez's account.
"It's extremely worrying, and I know that it is a race against time," she told RTL radio.
"Mother is alive, but I don't know for how much longer and I know that we have to get her out of there as quickly as possible.
"So I am extremely upset about it. I hope that the FARC and the Colombian government are going to reach a humanitarian agreement as quickly as possible."
Perez said three Americans captured in 2003 by the rebels were also faring badly, adding that they would likely remain in captivity unless a FARC leader who was jailed for 60 years in January gets his sentence reduced by US courts.
The four hostages released Wednesday had spent more than six years in the hands of the Marxist FARC, who constantly moved them around in tropical woodland to prevent their rescue by the Colombian military.
It was the second such joint Red Cross-Venezuelan mission in as many months.
In both cases, the FARC said it would only hand the hostages over to services commanded by leftwing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has rocky relations with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
Chavez late Wednesday made a "from the heart" appeal to top FARC leader Manuel Marulanda to move Betancourt to a safe location "urgently."
"I'll send you a message through our regular channels to see how we can go about releasing Ingrid," Chavez said during a meeting with reporters.
A spokesman for French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he hoped FARC's "positive gesture will be soon followed by further releases" and appealed in particular for Betancourt's release.
The rebels' insistence on Chavez heading up the two recovery operations appeared to be intended to embarrass the Colombian government, which has been resisting their demands.
The Venezuelan leader's fierce anti-US rhetoric runs counter to Uribe's pro-Washington position.
Chavez has nettled his neighbor by suggesting the FARC be dropped from US and EU terror organization lists and be regarded as a legitimate armed political force.
After the latest hostage release, the FARC called for the Colombian government to make concessions on one of the rebels' principal demands: that a temporary demilitarized zone be created around two rural municipalities.
It wants the zone to be used for negotiations in which more hostages will be released in return for the freeing of 500 rebels in Colombian prisons.
US State Department spokesman Tom Casey welcomed the latest hostage release, but added that it was "reprehensible" that the FARC were still holding hostages, including the three US citizens.
Chavez's spokesman Jesse Chacon told reporters late Wednesday: "The only way out of this is a negotiated settlement and a political settlement. There is no military solution to the conflict in Colombia."


Israel pounds Gaza militants after rocket death

by Adel Zaanoun*

Israel pounded militants in Hamas-run Gaza Strip yesterday, killing five, as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed to make the Islamists pay a heavy price for rocket attacks amid spiralling violence.
Israeli strikes killed five gunmen in Gaza and two in the occupied West Bank yesterday, while a 12-year-old boy in Gaza died of injuries sustained in a raid the previous day, medics and security sources said.
Over the past 24 hours, 19 Palestinians and one Israeli have died as a result of spiralling violence between the two sides, all but three of them in and around the impoverished and isolated Gaza Strip.
Those killed have included a six-month-old baby in Gaza — one of six civilians killed in the territory — and a man in southern Israel who became the first Israeli victim of a Gaza rocket attack in nine months.
Speaking after talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Tokyo, Olmert vowed to make Hamas pay for the rocket attacks despite US concerns about civilians in Gaza, one of the world's most densely-populated places with a population of 1.5 million.
"I explained to the secretary of state that we won't end our battle," Olmert told reporters. "We will make the terrorists pay a very heavy price."
"We are at the height of this battle and we will pursue it until the danger threatening residents in the south ends," he said.
Rice said she told Olmert that she supported his determination to end the rocket attacks, adding: "The issue is that the rocket attacks need to stop."
She is due to visit the Middle East next week as part of Washington's efforts to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that was relaunched in late November but has made little progress since.
"There needs to be due concern for the innocent people and the humanitarian situation in Gaza," she added.
The violence around Gaza, where Hamas violently seized power last June, flared early on Wednesday when an Israeli strike killed five Hamas militants in the southern town of Khan Yunis.
In retaliation, the Islamists launched a volley of rockets into southern Israel, killing a man at a university on the outskirts of the town of Sderot.
He became the first Israeli since May killed by a rocket that Gaza militants fire on nearly a daily basis. Hamas claimed responsibility for the deadly strike, one of some 50 projectiles launched on Wednesday.
At least 219 people, most of them Gaza militants, have been killed since the revival of peace talks, according to a tally, and the violence showed no signs of subsiding yesterday.
Israeli "aviation has launched three raids yesterday morning against armed men in the north of the Gaza Strip," an army spokeswoman said.
The strikes killed five gunmen in Gaza, medics said. In the occupied West Bank, Israeli army raids killed two militants in the northern town of Nablus, security sources said.
Gaza militants fired four rockets and five mortars without causing injuries, the army said.
The bloodshed comes as US President George W. Bush's administration steps up its diplomacy in the Middle East in hope of making progress before he leaves office next January.
Rice — who will visit Israel, the Palestinian territories and Belgium from March 3 to 7 — said she still saw a "remarkable commitment" by Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
"The most important thing that can be done is to use the opportunity before us to have this vision of a Palestinian state become one that is concrete," Rice said.
"That is what will ultimately give Israelis and Palestinians confidence that they have a future of peace and security, not one of conflict," she said.
Olmert, in his talks in Japan — a major donor to the Palestinian Authority — also pledged progress on the roadmap, although he cast doubt on whether the 2008 timeframe was realistic.