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Saturday, 23 March, 2002, 23:03 GMT
Father of Colombia kidnap victim dies
Juan Carlos Lecompte, husband of kidnapped candidate Ingrid Betancourt
Betancourt's husband asks for a humanitarian gesture
The family of the kidnapped Colombian presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, has called for her immediate release so she can attend her father's funeral on Tuesday.

Her father, the 83-year-old former Education Minister, Gabriel Betancourt Mejia, died of heart and respiratory trouble on Saturday without having seen his daughter who was abducted by left-wing rebels a month ago.

Ingrid Betancourt
Betancourt is a severe critic of the FARC
Her husband said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) could make a humanitarian gesture and allow her to bury her father.

The rebels say they want to exchange the presidential candidate and five other members of parliament they are holding for jailed guerrilla leaders.

But President Andres Pastrana's government has ruled out any exchange.

End of talks

Ingrid Betancourt, 40, a severe critic of the FARC, is running as an independent in the presidential elections on 26 May. By law, she and other kidnapped politicians can still run for office.

Mrs Betancourt, was seized as she entered what was then the FARC's safe haven in southern Colombia, ignoring military advice that the road was unsafe.

FARC rebels
FARC wants to exchange its captives for imprisoned rebels
Her father's ill health worsened after the kidnapping, the family said.

During his last weeks of life he made repeated televised pleas for the guerrilla fighters to free his daughter.

"Today the FARC has the chance of to make a humanitarian gesture and to show kindness and compassion for the grief-stricken family," her husband Juan Carlos Lecompte said.

The rebels have said the government has one year to exchange her for imprisoned guerrillas, before they "take the appropriate actions".

President Pastrana ended a three-year peace process with FARC in February after it hijacked a commercial airliner and kidnapped a prominent senator, just days before Mrs Betancourt's kidnapping.

Correspondents say that with presidential elections only two months away nothing is likely to happen until a new national leader is in place.

See also:

26 Feb 02 | Americas
Outrage at Colombian kidnap
21 Feb 02 | Americas
Colombian army moves against rebels
15 Feb 02 | Americas
Timeline: Colombia
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