(dpa) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered France his help in its humanitarian mission to aid former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who is reportedly ailing after six years of jungle captivity at the hands of leftist rebels.
Chavez said Thursday night in Caracas that he offered to personally escort the French mission, which includes a former French consul and doctors, during a telephone call with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"I would be willing to go with Sarkozy to find Ingrid, and not only Ingrid but a whole group of hostages, and to push for a humanitarian exchange," said Chavez, who has had a mediating role in the past with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the rebel group holding Betancourt, 46, who holds dual French-Colombian citizenship.
The French group arrived in Bogota Thursday. FARC has given no indication it would cooperate with the group, but the rebels did release a message Thursday rejecting a unilateral release of Betancourt and saying only a prisoner exchange would free her.
People who have seen Betancourt recently have said she is suffering from hepatitis B; malaria; malnutrition; depression; and black fever, the most severe form of leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease that in nearly always fatal if left untreated.
Chavez said on state-run television that Sarkozy suggested Chavez contact Ivan Marquez, one of the FARC leaders, to facilitate the French medical mission.