Death of Colombian rebel hinders French rescue mission

Colombian rebel leaders were once easily found in the towns and fields of southern Colombia as they talked peace with the government. Today, a French-led mission to save a rebel hostage may fail because the insurgents are in hiding and their main conduit to the outside world has been killed. The mission mounted by France, Spain and Switzerland to save the gravely ill French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate, is on hold, with a jet sent to help her still sitting in the Colombian capital four days after it arrived. After peace talks with rebels collapsed in 2002, commanders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, disappeared into the jungle, leaving a bearded, diminutive rebel known as Raul Reyes as their public face. Reyes was killed on March 1 in a Colombian military raid on a FARC camp across the border in Ecuador that triggered a regional crisis, with Ecuador, backed by Venezuela and Nicaragua, complaining the attack violated its sovereignty. The raid is now having additional repercussions. By eliminating the channel of contact with the reclusive rebel leadership, it has hamstrung the international mission to save Betancourt. Reyes had been engaged in hostage talks with Venezuela, France and other countries.