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Colombia: the ICRC's role in the possible release of hostages

27-12-2007 Interview

There are growing hopes that several people held by the FARC in Colombia may be released in the coming days following negotiations between the Venezuelan and Colombian authorities as well as the FARC. Maria Dos Anjos Gussing, the ICRC's head of operations for Latin America and the Caribbean, talks about the organization's role in the current situation.


Maria dos Anjos Gussing    
     What can you tell us about the current situation?  

According to the information given to us by the Venezuelan authorities, the FARC are prepared to release the former Colombian congresswoman, Consuelo Gonzalez de Perdomo, as well as Clara Rojas and her son born to her in captivity. Clara Rojas is the assistant to Ingrid Betancourt. In its role as a neutral and independent intermediary, the ICRC has offered its services to all parties involved and ha s been asked to help facilitate the announced release of these three people. Our two delegations in Caracas and Bogota have immediately started to work on this assignment, taking care of all the practical arrangements that need to be put in place to carry out such an operation. However, the ICRC is not participating in the actual negotiations and the success of the operation will of course depend on the ongoing discussions between all the parties involved.

 Can you give more details about the role the ICRC is expected to play?

The ICRC is playing an exclusively humanitarian role in this operation. Aircraft and helicopters bearing the Red Cross emblem are expected to fly to the Colombian town of Villavicencio once the green light is given by all the parties concerned. Passengers on board will include several ICRC delegates. From Villavicencio, helicopters with ICRC markings and ICRC delegates on board will continue on to an agreed location in the jungle where the handover of the two hostages and the child is expected to take place. The ICRC's involvement will end once the hostages are reunited with their families.

 Can you give any details about their medical condition?

The ICRC has not been able to visit the hostages and has no details on their current state of health. The ICRC reiterates its readiness to visit all persons held by the armed groups in Colombia.

 What are the precedents for the ICRC's action?

The ICRC, as a strictly neutral and independent intermediary, has for a long time been involved in humanitarian missions to facilitate the release of hostages or detainees in Colombia. The role is accepted by both the Colombian author ities and the armed groups that have agreed to such missions regularly in the past. We have been asked in various instances to transport released hostages in different parts of the country in full transparency and agreement with the Government and all armed parties to the conflict. As a recent example, in September this year, the ICRC also recovered the bodies of the 11 deputies who died in captivity in June 2007, handing the bodies over to their families in Cali.

 Does this situation raise hopes for further releases of other hostages remaining in the hands of the FARC?

We certainly hope so. The ICRC is of course very concerned about the well-being of all those held by armed parties to the conflict and by the anguish caused to their families. For each family, it is an individual human tragedy that results in enormous suffering each day.

Regarding further releases, I cannot speculate. This remains in the hands of the parties to the conflict but the ICRC stands ready to provide any humanitarian service that may be deemed useful now and in the future.