Page last updated at 20:52 GMT, Tuesday, 1 April 2008 21:52 UK

France to send Betancourt mission

A protest for the Farc hostage Ingrid Betancourt
Ingrid Betancourt has both French and Colombian citizenship

The French president has said he plans to send a humanitarian mission to Colombia to treat a high-profile hostage held by Farc rebels.

Nicolas Sarkozy also appealed directly to the left-wing group's leader, urging the release of Ingrid Betancourt.

He said Miss Betancourt, held in the Colombian jungle for six years, was "in danger of imminent death".

Colombia's president has said he will suspend military operations in any area where the mission plans to travel.

Mr Uribe said the French mission, which would be accompanied by the International Committee of the Red Cross, had his full backing.

Ready and waiting

"We have expressed our complete agreement to allow this international medical mission to make contact with the hostages and treat them," he said.

The French president's office said over the weekend that a medically equipped plane is on stand-by to evacuate Ms Betancourt if she is released.

Ingrid Betancourt in March 2001 in Paris and on a picture released in November 2007
Ingrid Betancourt before her kidnap (left) and several years later (right)
Born on 25 December 1961
Grows up in Paris
1989: Returns to Colombia
1994: Elected to lower house
1998: Becomes a senator
2002: Kidnapped by Farc rebels

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott reports from Colombia that there is as yet no indication from Farc that they are ready to give up their most high-profile hostage.

He says that the recent killing of the group's chief negotiator was described by the rebels as a "grave blow".

In his televised appeal, Mr Sarkozy addressed Farc rebel leader Manuel Marulanda by name, saying Ms Betancourt was believed to be seriously ill.

"Only a decision from you to save this woman from death is needed... Take this decision. Free Ingrid Betancourt," he said in the broadcast.

Last week France offered to take in Farc rebels released from prison in exchange for the 46-year-old woman, who has been held in the jungle since she was seized.

Ms Betancourt, who holds both French and Colombian nationality, has been held in the jungle since 2002 when she was campaigning as a candidate for the Colombian presidency.

As well as hepatitis B, she is said to have a tropical skin disease and was pictured looking thin and frail in a recent video.

Her case has drawn broad international attention for years and in particular in France, as she holds French nationality acquired through her marriage to a French national.

Her former husband has said he fears she may be dying or already dead.

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Footage of Ingrid Betancourt

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