Ex-husband fears French hostage is dead

The former husband of French hostage Ingrid Betancourt said today that he fears she is dead after six years of rebel captivity in Colombia’s jungle, expressing doubts about a government offer to obtain her release.

The former husband of French hostage Ingrid Betancourt said today that he fears she is dead after six years of rebel captivity in Colombia’s jungle, expressing doubts about a government offer to obtain her release.

Fabrice Delloye said he feared for the fate of Ms Betancourt, who has reportedly been very ill, because families of rebel hostages have begged Colombia’s government for years without success to agree to exchange imprisoned rebels for hostages.

“We were asking for the humanitarian exchange, a humanitarian gesture from President (Alvaro) Uribe and nothing had come of it, and now in the last two or three days this news comes out... it’s obvious that the Colombian army, the Colombian government has some news or has intercepted some communication from the” rebels, Mr Delloye, the father of Ms Betancourt’s two children, told Colombia’s Caracol radio.

Asked if he worried that the information the government may possess is that Betancourt is dead, Mr Delloye answered: “It’s true, that is my concern, that is my fear.”

Meanwhile, France said it is ready to take in Colombian rebels freed from jail in their homeland in exchange for Ms Betancourt, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said today.

In an apparent gesture toward rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, he referred to them as “political prisoners,” although Colombia says they are terrorists.

France made a similar offer to take in jailed FARC members in December, but is pressing ever harder for freedom for Ms Betancourt, who holds dual French and Colombian nationalities and is among the most high-profile hostages held by FARC rebels.

Ms Betancourt, who was kidnapped in 2002 while campaigning for Colombia’s presidency, suffers from Hepatitis B and a skin disease, according to former hostages.

Yesterday, President Uribe said what the Colombian government has found out about Betancourt is “what the whole community has heard – a delicate state.”

The FARC are demanding that the government give a temporary demilitarised zone in southwest Colombia so it can negotiate a deal to free hundreds of imprisoned rebels in exchange for around 40 high-value hostages, including Ms Betancourt and three US defence contractors. President Uribe has so far rejected any such zone.

On Thursday night after an emergency meeting with President Uribe, Colombia’s top peace negotiator said the government had signed a decree that would set free rebels from FARC if the group first released some hostages, including Ms Betancourt.

A day after the announcement, government critic Senator Gustavo Petro released a statement saying he worried that Ms Betancourt was dead and the government was attempting to show the world it had done everything possible to achieve her liberation.

Since the release of images of a gaunt and depressed looking Ms Betancourt in November, followed by the testimonies of six recently released hostages, “we all know that Ingrid’s physical health is more than just worrisome,” said Mr Delloye.

Ms Betancourt “needs medical assistance immediately and the FARC cannot get it for her in the jungle.”

In Paris, the presidential palace said a medically-equipped plane was on standby, ready to take off at any moment should Colombian rebels free Ms Betancourt.

Another plane, a Falcon 900, arrived on Friday night in French Guiana in the event Ms Betancourt was freed. Later, the French army said it had returned home.

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