2007-12-26 14:54:01 Xinhua English
BOGOTA, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) -- Colombia agreed Wednesday to allow a Venezuela-led mission to enter the country and pick up the three hostages held by its largest rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said several aircraft, including helicopters carrying Red Cross symbols, are ready to leave from the Venezuelan border. Envoys from France, Argentina, Cuba, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia will be on board, he said.
According to Chavez, the Venezuelan helicopters will first fly to Villavicencio, a central Colombian city about 75 km south of Bogota, before taking off to meet the rebels and the hostages at some unknown spot.
"Let's hope that in the next few hours the freeing of Clara Rojas, Consuelo Gonzalez and the child Emmanuel will be made reality," Chavez told reporters. If so, they will be able to spend the New Year with their families, he added.
Gonzalez is a former Colombian congresswoman held by the rebels since September 2001 and Rojas is an aide to former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. Rojas gave birth to son Emmanuel during captivity.
The FARC proposed freeing them in a Dec. 9 statement in "compensation" for Chavez who had been fired by the Colombian government from his role as a mediator in the hostage swap.
Colombian Foreign Minister Fernando Araujo, who himself was once a hostage and managed to escape early this year, thanked Chavez for his efforts in securing the release of the hostages.
Nevertheless, he said the helicopters to enter Colombia should all bear the Red Cross emblem and the Colombian high commissioner for peace, Luis Carlos Restrepo, must be present during the handover.
Relatives of the hostages and international community on Wednesday thanked Colombian President Alvaro Uribe for allowing Venezuela to enter its territory.
"We received the news with joy and we hope we can go ahead tomorrow," said former Ecuadorian interior minister Gustavo Larreawho will be part of the mission. "We thank the Colombian government for this humanitarian gesture," he said.
"I see that things are coming together and that we will achieve the final result of having her at home again," said Rojas' brother, Ivan Rojas. "President Chavez spoke about a matter of hours. I think we will travel to Villavicencio tomorrow," he added.
Chavez said he had spoken with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy about Ingrid Betancourt, who also has French citizenship and was kidnapped along with Rojas during the presidential campaign in Colombia in February 2002.
Chavez had urged Colombia not to try what he described as a "clandestine rescue" and to avoid putting hostages' lives at risk by frustrating the swap.
The FARC is seeking a swap of 45 high-profile prisoners for some 500 FARC fighters held in Colombian government jails.