BOGOTA, Colombia - Colombian rebels pledged to hand over three hostages to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, including an aide to former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and the aide's young son, a statement released yesterday said.
Chavez, at a summit in Uruguay, said he received a statement from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, saying they would hand over hostages soon. He called the move a "nice Christmas present" but noted: "They are in the middle of the jungle and I can't go and receive them personally, even if I wanted to."
The FARC statement, dated Dec. 9, was first e-mailed yesterday to the Bogota office of Cuba's Prensa Latina news agency. It said the group would free Betancourt aide Clara Rojas, Rojas' son Emmanuel, and Consuelo Gonzalez, a former Colombian congresswoman kidnapped in 2001.
Neither Chavez nor the statement indicated when the three would be released. FARC said the three would be freed in Colombia to "Chavez or someone he designates." Chavez had been trying to negotiate a prisoner swap between the rebels and the Colombian government before President Alvaro Uribe called him off last month.
Colombia's top peace negotiator, Luis Carlos Restrepo, expressed skepticism. He said his "government does not have other sources to establish the veracity of the statement."
The FARC had offered to release 46 high-profile hostages, including Betancourt and three U.S. defense contractors, in return for the release of hundreds of imprisoned rebels. Rojas was last seen in a video released by the rebels in 2002.