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Colombia: ICRC stands ready to facilitate humanitarian visits to hostages

03-04-2008 Interview

There are growing media reports about the deteriorating health of Ingrid Betancourt and a possible humanitarian mission to visit her and other hostages held by the Colombian armed group, FARC. The ICRC's head of operations for Latin America, Maria Dos Anjos Gussing, talks about a possible role for the ICRC in such an action should all parties agree.


Maria Dos Anjos Gussing    
     The news of Ingrid Betancourt's state of health is extremely worrying. Does the ICRC have any additional information on the subject?  
We know little more than what has been reported by the media. We are in touch with contacts in various circles both in Colombia and elsewhere, and we are indeed extremely concerned about the state of health of Ingrid Betancourt and of all the other hostages and detainees. The ICRC remains at the disposal of all of the parti es concerned to facilitate any humanitarian action concerning the hostages and the detainees.
 Are you aware of the current initiative by the three countries supporting the peace process in Colombia (France, Switzerland and Spain)?  
Yes, we are aware of the initiative and have contacted the various countries concerned several times on the subject. We have been informed of the aims of the operation and of the procedure to be followed, and we have also been consulted on the role the ICRC could play in the various stages of the operation.
 What might be the role of the ICRC in this operation?  
The ICRC is prepared to act in a strictly humanitarian capacity to assist the hostages, but it would seem that the moment has not yet come. Discussions and negotiations have still to be held among all of the parties concerned (the three countries supporting the peace process, the Colombian authorities and the FARC-EP) in order to define possible humanitarian action concerning the hostages. What can already be said is that once any such action has been outlined, the ICRC can then launch an operation within hours and travel to any destination in Colombia to assist the hostages. But if this is to come about, all of the parties concerned must agree on the nature of the operation and on the role the ICRC should play in order to carry it to a successful conclusion. It is essential that all of the parties involved trust the ICRC as a specifically neutral and independent humanitarian organization. It is only on that basis that such an operation can be carried out.
 Are there preconditions for ICRC action?  
Yes. The main precondition is that it be an operation with the strictly humanitarian objective of a lleviating the suffering of the victims. If the operation is to be launched, all of the parties concerned must reach agreement beforehand, and safety guarantees must be given, particularly by the Colombian authorities and the FARC.