Page last updated at 07:56 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 08:56 UK

Betancourt rescuer wore Red Cross

Red Cross emblem
Misuse of the symbol undermines Red Cross neutrality

Colombia's president has confirmed that a Red Cross symbol was worn by a member of the military rescue mission that freed 15 hostages from Farc rebels.

Alvaro Uribe said he had apologised to the Red Cross for the error, made by a nervous soldier acting against orders.

Misuse of the Red Cross emblem is considered a violation of the Geneva Conventions and international law.

Rescuers tricked rebels into releasing Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages by posing as international aid workers.

President Uribe's acknowledgement followed reports that the Red Cross emblem had been displayed on clothing worn by Colombian intelligence officers during the rescue on 2 July.

Mr Uribe said that just one member of the team had worn the emblem "contradicting official orders" because he was nervous about the operation.

Risk to aid workers

The president said the name of the official would not be disclosed "because we do not want to affect his career".

"We regret that this occurred," said Mr Uribe.

President Alvaro Uribe (l) and Gen Freddy Padilla
President Uribe, left, congratulated his military leaders after the rescue

Falsely portraying military personnel as Red Cross workers is against the Geneva Conventions because it could put humanitarian workers at risk when carrying out missions in war zones.

It also undermines the neutrality of the Red Cross.

Red Cross spokesman Florian Westphal told the BBC the organisation was pleased that Mr Uribe had said that the use of the emblem had been a mistake.

"For us it's important that this has cleared up the situation to an extent, because obviously what we wanted to make clear all along is that first of all we played no part in this operation, and secondly that it's extremely important that the Red Cross emblem is respected as a protective sign for humanitarian activities that aim to help victims of armed conflict," he said.

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