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Sarkozy Calls For Release Of Hostages In Colombia


By Lisa Bryant
Paris

French President Calls for Release of Hostages in Colombia

French President Nicolas Sarkozy again marked his hands-on diplomatic style by personally requesting the head of Colombia's FARC guerrillas release 45 hostages the group has been holding for years.

In television and radio messages released overnight by the French government, President Sarkozy directly appealed to FARC leader Manuel Marulanda to release the 45 hostages, who include three Americans and French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt.

He said France did not share Marulanda's views and condemned his methods. But he also said that releasing the hostages would show FARC understands humanitarian principles.

Mr. Sarkozy also delivered words of encouragement to the hostages, singling out Betancourt, who was captured by the rebels six years ago as she campaigned for the Colombian presidency.

The French president praised Betancourt's dignity and courage and told her to stay strong. He said her family waits for her release and that France will never drop her cause.

Talks between the Colombian government and the rebels have been stalled over proposals to swap the hostages for about 500 FARC prisoners in Colombian jails. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recently tried to mediate a solution, but he has fallen out with Colombia's leader, Alvaro Uribe.

Paris has kept Betancourt's cause high on its agenda and posters of the politician, who has family members in France, are draped in public places. Recently released videos of some of the hostages showed Betancourt looking thin and despondent.

Mr. Sarkozy's direct intervention is becoming a trademark of his diplomacy. He sent his ex-wife Cecilia to Libya a few months ago to lobby for the release of Bulgarian health workers imprisoned there. Last month, he flew to Chad to bring back 10 Europeans jailed on charges of involvement in a botched effort by a French charity to fly 103 African children to France.

ENDS

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