Saturday, August 9, 2008

Red Cross: Colombia broke Geneva Conventions

GENEVA (AP) — The International Red Cross said Wednesday that Colombia broke the Geneva Conventions by deliberately using the humanitarian group's emblem during the covert military mission that freed Ingrid Betancourt and other hostages.

New video footage of the operation contradicts an earlier claim by Colombia's government that the emblem was a last-minute addition to the daring ruse that rescued 15 hostages from the FARC rebel group last month, the Red Cross said.

"It seems to be a deliberate improper use of the emblem," said Anna Schaaf, a Red Cross spokesman, noting that is a violation of international law.

Use of the Red Cross symbol in a military operation violates the first Geneva Convention because it could damage the relief group's neutrality in conflicts, endangering medical personnel on the battlefield who are using the red cross for protection.

Colombia's government offered renewed apologies to the Red Cross, and President Alvaro Uribe blamed Colombia's military for not coming clean after an internal investigation.

"Errors can be excused when they are in good faith. ... But the lie in an investigation of this importance for Colombia cannot be excused," Uribe told reporters Wednesday.

In the July 2 rescue, a team of Colombian military intelligence agents posing as members of a fake international humanitarian group airlifted the hostages safety, including Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate, and three U.S. military contractors.

Uribe first apologized to the Red Cross in July after footage surfaced showing one member wearing the Red Cross emblem, but he described the incident as an unauthorized error by a nervous soldier.

New video footage of the rescue aired by Colombian broadcaster RCN this week showed a rescuer already wearing the Red Cross insignia before boarding a helicopter at the start of the mission. RCN declined to say how it obtained the video.

The Geneva-based Red Cross said it had accepted Uribe's original explanation. "The situation is different for us now," Schaaf said.

She said it is up to the Colombian government to take action against those responsible for misusing the symbol.

Uribe said only that "the government must advance toward decisions" in the matter.

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