French deal in Colombia hostage case?

Claude-Marie Vadrot, writing for his blog on the French online journal Mediapart July 4, asserts that FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt—freed in a Colombian military operation July 2—was actually supposed to be liberated on March 8, in a French deal that had been brokered by President Rafael Correa of Ecuador. FARC commander Raul Reyes had set up camp in Ecuador for this purpose, Vadrot says. He also claims the air raid on the camp that scuttled the deal was actually carried out by US aircraft—zeroing in on the location via Reyes’ cell phone. “Having succeeded in obtaining the telephone number a few days earlier, the American officials agreed with the Colombian government that it was necessary to put an end to the negotiation that was on the verge of being completed.”

Echoing claims we have noted before, Correa is quoted: “Look at the depths to which Alvaro Uribe stooped. He knew that twelve hostages were going to be freed in March, including Ingrid Betancourt. He knew it, and used his contacts to set up this trap and…to create a smokescreen for his unjustifiable action.”

Next, in Vadrot’s version, Colomia’s President Uribe began his own initiative to the severely weakened FARC—building on the efforts of the French initiative, but portraying it to the world as a dramatic military rescue. The Colombian army identified the group of 100 people guarding Betancourt, Vadrot says, approached them, offered immunity, and convinced them that surrender was the best option. They were allowed to obtain medicine and provisions—for themselves and the hostages. Vadrot implies Paris remained involved:

It apparently took several weeks to convince most of the leaders of this group. The condition they set was in the first place the promised immunity and the guarantee that no shots would be fired. The contract was respected. Around June 15, the Colombian government asked France if the offer of asylum for the rebels, made by [French President] Nicolas Sarkozy as well as [Prime Minister] François Fillon, was still on. The reply was affirmative and the final phase of the operation was set in motion without the rebels needing to move; the hostages were by now more or less “presentable.”

Vadrot claims anonymous contacts in Colombia for the information.

The FARC, for its part, has issued a statement saying the release of the “prisoners of war” was “not the product of a rescue, but an escape” (no produjo por rescate sino por fuga), and accused the operatives known as “CĂ©sar” and “Gafas” of “permitting it.” The statement, reported by Venezuela’s Bolivarian News Agency (ABN) July 11, says “the escape…was a direct consequence of the despicable conduct of CĂ©sar and Enrique, who betrayed their revolutionary commitment and the trust which had been placed in them.”

Whether CĂ©sar and Enrique are now extradited to the US may reveal something as to Vadrot’s claim of an immunity deal.

See our last post on Colombia.