”We are willing to continue helping, but a series of gestures are needed from the Colombian and U.S. governments (to establish) a minimum of trust that allows us to reactivate the paths toward a release,” Chávez said late Thursday.Chávez also said he has lost all contact with the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which kidnapped Ingrid Betancourt while she running for president of Colombia six years ago.France launched a mission Thursday to rescue Betancourt — or at least provide her with medical attention — and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Friday that Sarkozy and Chávez could head to the border if it would help.Colombian President Alvaro Uribe vowed to make ”all possible efforts” to help.But the mission already appeared to be foundering.Astrid Betancourt, the hostage’s sister, said the French flew to Colombia ”without having any pre-agreement with the guerrillas,” motivated by rumors that she is gravely ill.”That’s why they sent this plane, to see if this initiative would provoke a reaction in the FARC, but knowing it was very unlikely,” Betancourt told Colombian radio on Friday from Paris. “That way they wouldn’t later have to say, ‘We didn’t go and something happened.”’Colombia’s armed forces chief, Gen. Freddy Padilla, said the team, which consists of two diplomats and two doctors, doesn’t even know where Betancourt is.Rodrigo Granda, known as the FARC’s ”foreign minister,” suggested the French had no deal for the release of Betancourt, 46.”Only as a result of a prisoner exchange will those who are held captive in our camps go free,” Granda said in a communique posted Thursday on a Web site friendly to the FARC. In an apparent reference to the unilateral freeing of six hostages earlier this year, he said: “It’s unacceptable that more gestures of peace are asked for.”But a French diplomat said Friday that Granda’s statement was actually made March 19, well before the humanitarian operation was planned, and so had no connection to it. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.The rebel group has insisted that any prisoner exchange include the release of two FARC leaders imprisoned in the United States. They are Nayibe ”Sonia” Rojas, convicted last year in a U.S. court of exporting cocaine, and Ricardo Palmera — whose nom de guerre is Simon Trinidad — who was convicted in a hostage-taking conspiracy.The FARC, which also holds three U.S. contractors kidnapped in 2003 when their plane went down in southern Colombia, wants hundreds of rebels jailed in Colombia freed as part of the swap.Betancourt’s plight has taken on added urgency since another hostage who spent months with her was released in February, saying she has hepatitis B and a tropical skin ailment. Colombian news media have reported this week that she is at death’s door, giving few details and citing unidentified peasants who say they have seen her.French officials in Bogota and Paris refused to comment on the mission. Officials in Spain and Switzerland, which were supporting the mission in unspecified ways, also said discretion was key to the mission’s success.Betancourt’s husband, Juan Carlos Lecompte, held out a shred of hope that the French have a plan to get to his wife.”Maybe they have information we don’t know about,” he told The Associated Press.Carlos Lozano, director of Voz, the communist party newspaper, said the success of the mission “depends on whether there was a prior agreement between the French and the FARC.””If there was no agreement, this (mission) could be delayed for a long time waiting for the FARC to say yes, or it probably won’t happen at all,” Lozano said in a telephone interview.Late Thursday, Sen. Piedad Córdoba, who has tried in the past to mediate between the government and the FARC, revealed a so-called ”proof-of-life” video of another hostage, politician Oscar Tulio Lizcano, who was abducted in August 2000.In the video, Lizcano pleads with Chávez to do “the utmost to get us out of here because we are rotting in the jungle.”Chávez, who brokered the other hostage releases this year, said he cannot help facilitate Betancourt’s release because he has lost all contact with Colombian guerrillas. His main contact with the FARC, a commander known as Ivan Marquez, is being hunted by U.S. and Colombian security forces, he said, making open communication impossible.”I can’t do anything more,” Chavez said.In France, the risks of mounting the mission for French President Nicolas Sarkozy appear minimal. Betancourt’s cause is so popular in France that the greater risk for the French president would be to let her die without attempting every possible maneuver to free her.Sarkozy and Betancourt’s son have said she is dying, but haven’t said how they know that.The mission resembled one the French mounted in 2003, although the earlier effort was secret. Then-Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who had been Betancourt’s teacher in France, sent a Hercules C-130 plane to Brazil to fetch Betancourt amid word that she was ill and the rebels would free her. The mission ended in failure, and the FARC said it had never planned to release her.
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