Former FARC hostage and Colombian senator seeks meeting with Bush

Luis Eladio Perez, a former Colombian senator and one-time hostage of the leftist rebel group FARC, is seeking a meeting with US President George W Bush to get his backing for the latest effort to swap hostages for rebels in Colombian prisons. ( dpa )

Perez has already discussed his new exchange plan with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, and also met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris. The deal would include the release of former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, the highest profile FARC hostage, who has dual French-Colombian citizenship.

The former senator's wife, Angela de Perez, said Sunday that the meeting with Bush - being sought through diplomatic channels - was needed because the United States had an important role to play in the possible execution of any exchange.

The new plan involves the release of 39 hostages for some 500 members of FARC, which stands for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The exchange would be made in French territories overseas such as Martinique or French Guiana, according to Argentinian newspaper Clarin.

Colombia and FARC have agreed to an exchange in principle, but disagreements over how and where to make the swap have doomed the plan a number of times in the past year.

The deal would involve France removing FARC from its list of terrorist organizations, while Washington would have to free two rebels imprisoned in the US: Ricardo Palmera - alias Simon Trinidad - and Anayibe Rojas, known as Sonia. The two would be granted asylum in France under the proposal.

FARC would in turn release three US contractors - Keith Stansell, Thomas Howes and Mark Gonsalves - who were kidnapped in February 2003.

It is estimated that FARC holds at least 700 hostages.

Former legislator Consuelo Gonzales - herself a one-time captive released in January - said Sunday that she was hopeful Perez's plan would be successful.

"It would be the best news of the year, of the century, because it would permit the freeing of 39 people who live ... in the most terrible humanitarian situation," Gonzalez told radio station Caracol.

Perez was taken captive in 2001 and released in February along with three other legislators. He is also likely to travel to Venezuela to present his plan to President Hugo Chavez, who has had a mediating role in the conflict in the past.

But Jose Obdulio Gaviria, a top advisor to Uribe, said the plan has some serious flaws that doomed it from the beginning, in particular that of removing FARC from the list of terrorist groups.

Gaviria painted the decades-long battle with the leftist rebel group FARC as one of "civilization against barbarism."

Camilo Gomez, a peace envoy under former president Andres Pastrana, said their remained "holes" in the plan, and warned against promoting direct contacts between France and FARC that would not take into account the Colombian government's position.

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