French Envoy in Colombia for Hostages

By: Cesar Garcia
By: Cesar Garcia

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- France's foreign minister and President Alvaro Uribe on Monday sought to advance efforts to free hostages held by Colombia's leftist rebels.

Neither Uribe nor Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner commented publicly on their hourlong meeting.

France recently sent a plane with a doctor aboard in a failed attempt to help hostage Ingrid Betancourt, a dual French-Colombian citizen kidnapped while running for president in 2002.

Hostages released by rebels in February say Betancourt was weak and gaunt when they last saw her that month.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has proposed swapping Betancourt and other high-value hostages, including three U.S. military contractors seized in February 2003, for jailed guerrillas, including three imprisoned in the United States.

Kouchner is scheduled on Wednesday to meet Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who was key to the rebels' unilateral release of six hostages earlier this year.

"The process of a humanitarian exchange (prisoner swap) happens through Chavez," Piedad Cordoba, a Colombian senator and confidante of the Venezuelan president, said to reporters Monday after meeting with Kouchner.

The French envoy also met with Betancourt's mother, Yolanda Pulecio, and Luis Eladio Perez, who was held with Betancourt and is the author of a prisoner swap proposal that the French have embraced but whose details have not been disclosed.

France's principal guerrilla contact, No. 2 FARC commander Raul Reyes, was killed by Colombia's military on March 1 in a cross-border raid into Ecuador that triggered a regional diplomatic crisis.

Kouchner's office said in announcing this week's trip that he would try to ease tensions between Colombia, Washington's most loyal ally in the region, and left-leaning neighbors Venezuela and Ecuador.

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