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Rebels say Colombia blocking hostage handover

Associated Press
Published January 1, 2008


VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia - A Venezuelan-led mission to rescue three hostages, including a 3-year-old boy, from leftist rebels in Colombia's jungles fell apart Monday as the guerrillas accused Colombia's military of sabotaging the promised handoff.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe dismissed the claim as a lie by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, instead suggesting the guerrillas could be backing out of the deal brokered by President Hugo Chavez because they don't have the boy hostage.

"The FARC terrorist group doesn't have any excuse. They've fooled Colombia and now they want to fool the international community," Uribe said Monday from the central Colombian city where Venezuela helicopters have been waiting since Friday for word from the guerrillas on where the hostages could be picked up.

He made the shocking suggestion that the guerrillas "don't dare to keep their promises because they don't have the boy, Emmanuel." The FARC announced two weeks ago they would free the boy along with his mother, Clara Rojas, and former congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez.

Uribe said his government had given Venezuela and the international Red Cross coordinating the mission every guarantee that its military would not obstruct the handover.

Uribe said a 3-year old child named Juan David Gomez matching the description of Emmanuel provided by escaped hostages may have been living for the past two and a half years with at a foster home in Bogota.

The child was turned over in the eastern city of San Jose del Guaviare, a FARC stronghold, in 2005 by a man whom authorities now believe to be his father. The boy's mother was reported as disappeared, according to the child welfare agency case file read to journalists by peace commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo.

The Colombian leader said only DNA tests were required to prove or disprove "this hypothesis" - which he said could be done as soon as the boy's grandmother returns from Caracas, where she was awaiting the handover of her daughter and grandson.

Chavez, even while holding out the possibility the boy may not be in the FARC's hands, accused Uribe of traveling to Villavicencio "to dynamite the hostage rescue mission with a smoke screen."

"Hopefully the hypothesis of Uribe is correct. The FARC would look very bad to the entire world in light of such a lie," he added.

[Last modified December 31, 2007, 23:03:41]

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