Colombian Government Torpedoed Venezuelan-Mediated Hostage Return, Say Rebels

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), temporarily suspended on Monday the operation lead by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for the liberation of three hostages. According to the FARC, intensified Colombian military operations made it impossible to safely release the captives.

Caracas, January 2, 2008 ( – The
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), temporarily suspended on Monday
the operation lead by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for the liberation of
three hostages. According to the FARC, intensified
Colombian military operations made it impossible to safely release the

The three hostages
to be released were the former Colombian vice-presidential candidate Clara
Rojas, her son, Emmanuel, who was born in captivity, and former legislator
Consuelo Gonzalez, captured by the FARC in 2001.

As part of the
mission, dubbed "Operation Emmanuel," the Red Cross and a team of international
observers, including former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, flew to the
Colombian town of Villavicencio
to receive the coordinates of an undisclosed location where the hostages would
then be handed over. They waited for five days before the operation was

In statement to the
press in Villavicencio on Monday, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, denied
there was an increased military presence in the region and accused the FARC
of "lying" and not wanting to hand over
the hostages because they do not have the child, Emmanuel.

Uribe, along with the
Colombian High Commissioner for Peace, Luis Carlos Restrepo and Colombian
Minister of Defense presented what they described as a "hypothesis" based on
information received four days earlier; suggesting that an abandoned,
maltreated and malnourished child named Juan David Gómez Tapiero, 3 ½ years
old, placed in the care of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare in 2005,
could possibly be Emmanuel.

Uribe has called for
DNA tests of Rojas' family, and Juan David Gómez Tapiero, to verify the claim.

However, during a
press conference at Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas
on Monday, President Chavez responded,
saying Colombian Military operatives deployed in the region impeded the
operation and that Uribe went to Villavicencio
in order to "dynamite" the process of liberating the hostages.

"He went to launch a
bomb at the humanitarian process and should assume his responsibility before
the world as the president of Colombia,
because I don't have the slightest doubt that it is his government and his
actions that are trying to abort the proceedings," Chavez asserted.

"Why did Uribe wait
four days to launch his hypothesis over the whereabouts of Emmanuel and to
present this information just when the process of handing over the hostages was
about to occur?" he asked.

"I hope his hypothesis
is certain, but I have reasons to doubt Uribe, many reasons to doubt the High
Commissioner for Peace and many more reasons to doubt the Minister of Defense," he

However, if the
version that Uribe has presented is true, it will be the FARC that has some
explaining to do, Chavez added.

With the consent of Clara
González de Rojas and Iván Rojas, mother and brother of Clara
Rojas, who are in Caracas, Chavez authorised
a team of Colombian genetic experts to travel to Venezuela to carry out DNA testing
to verify the identity of the child.

However, political
analysts have questioned the validity of Uribe's hypothesis. Professor Vladimir
Acosta described it as a "soap opera"
and Colombian journalist Jorge Enrique Botero, who first alerted the world to
the existence of Emmanuel, told Venezuelan
state TV that Uribe's theory "does not add up to me."

Referring to a number
letters by the hostages, to be delivered to President Chavez as "proof of
life," seized by Colombian authorities in
Bogota on November 30, Botero said, "We should recall the recent testimony of
Army officials held by the FARC. They say they have been with the child on many
occasions, and that he is like a son to all of them there."

Uribe's hypothesis
"appeared at a very strange moment," Botero added.
"Speculation at a moment like this, and made in the form that it was done, with
the President of the Republic, the Minister of Defense on one side, the
Commissioner for Peace behind him…to me it appears as an irresponsible act to
give a blow to the process of liberation."

Additionally, in
contrast to Uribe's claims that military activities in the region had not
increased, the Colombian daily El Clarin reported that the team of
international facilitators who traveled to Villavicencio to oversee the handover, were
left with the impression that the pursuit of the FARC by the Colombian Armed
Forces "did not stop for one moment."

According to El Clarin, military helicopters also
flew over the zone where the hostages were to be handed over and the FARC
responded, launching a missile which narrowly missed one of the helicopters. On
Tuesday the Colombian military also announced that six FARC guerillas
had been killed in three separate clashes.

El Clarin also claimed
today that Uribe ordered espionage activities against the international
delegation waiting in Villavicencio by placing microphones under their beds and
having them constantly under military supervision; they were also separated
physically in different locations in order to "break the cohesion of the
delegation" the report continued.

On Sunday evening
Uribe communicated through Peace Commissioner Restrepo that he could no longer
guarantee the security of former president Kirchner or the
Brazilian representative Marco Aurelio García, causing them to leave.

Kirchner said that both
the FARC and the Colombian government were to blame for the failure of the
humanitarian mission.

Despite the failure of the mission, President Chavez assured that "Operation
Emmanuel" will continue and that other
possibilities to facilitate the liberation of the hostages would be explored,
such as a clandestine operation.