Tue, Apr 08, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Bishop appeals for hostages’ release

AP , SAN JOSE DEL GUAVIARE, COLOMBIA

A bishop preaching in a war zone on Sunday called on leftist rebels to release French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt and hundreds of other, lesser-known captives.

The sermon was held amid driving rain in San Jose del Guaviare, a jungle town near where Betancourt is believed to be held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

“We hope that the FARC heeds our appeals and speedily liberates Ingrid Betancourt and the rest of the hostages,’’ Bishop Guillermo Orozco told 400 people crowded into his church.

He urged the rebels to “accept the mediation of the church so we can finally get those hostages free,” and said the hostages should “resist and be confident that at some point their release will come.”

The abduction of former sentaor Betancourt while campaigning for Colombia’s presidency in February 2002 has prompted an international outcry and multinational efforts to rescue her.

The latest, French-led mission to free her — or at least deliver medical aid — seemed at a standstill on Sunday. A government jet carrying doctors and diplomats has been sitting idle on the tarmac at Bogota’s international airport since it arrived last Thursday.

French Ambassador Jean Michel Marlaud was working at the embassy on Sunday and was too busy to talk to reporters, his aides said.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in Paris on Saturday that the French team was still “on alert’’ in case the rebels make contact.

So far the rebels have not responded to the humanitarian effort, which was launched amid reports the 46-year-old Betancourt was near death.

The uncorroborated reports came from unidentified peasant farmers in eastern Guaviare state who allegedly saw Betancourt in recent weeks.

Betancourt’s mother, Yolanda Pulecio, told Caracol radio on Sunday that her daughter was suffering from the parasitic infection amebiasis.

“She has a cyst formed by amoebas,” Pulecio said during a weekend program dedicated to transmitting messages for the hostages. “That is very painful.”

Pulecio said as a result, her daughter had no appetite and was not eating properly. She did not explain where she received the information and did not return telephone calls from reporters.

Betancourt’s son, Lorenzo Delloye, said in Paris last week that his mother suffers from hepatitis B and a skin disease and was in danger of dying if she didn’t get a blood transfusion “in the coming hours.”

Delloye said he had received the information from former hostage Luis Eladio Perez, who last saw Betancourt on Feb. 4.

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