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Child said to be Colombian hostage's son

The 3-year-old was to have been included in rebels' stalled captive release. He has been in foster care for 2 years.

January 05, 2008|Chris Kraul | Times Staff Writer

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA — In a bizarre turn in a case that has kept this nation in thrall, preliminary blood tests indicate that a child who has been a government ward for more than two years is the son of Clara Rojas, a presidential campaign manager held by leftist rebels who kidnapped her nearly six years ago.

If confirmed, the results could explain why rebels failed last weekend to release as promised Rojas, her 3-year-old son and former legislator Consuelo Gonzalez to a humanitarian commission formed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez with the consent of the Colombian government.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, "offered to release someone they don't have," Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said in a statement Friday, referring to the child who is apparently Rojas' son. The boy lives in a foster care facility here.

Rojas was abducted in February 2002 along with her boss, presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. According to escaped hostages and journalists who claim first-hand knowledge, she gave birth in 2004 to a son fathered by an unidentified rebel.

The child's identity adds one more twist to a saga that began in August, when Uribe authorized Chavez to broker a comprehensive hostages-for-rebels swap, permission he retracted when Chavez broke protocol.

Then last month, the rebels offered to release Rojas, her son and Gonzalez to Chavez as an unconditional gesture of gratitude for the Venezuelan leader's failed mediation efforts. Chavez last weekend sent four helicopters and his commission, which included former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, to Villavicencio, Colombia, to witness the release.

According to the plan, Venezuelan helicopters with International Red Cross markings were to have picked up the hostages at undisclosed jungle locations using coordinates they would receive once in the air.

But the coordinates never came. The commission, news media from around the world and Hollywood director Oliver Stone, who had hoped to film the release, waited in vain. On Monday, Chavez read a letter from FARC blaming Uribe for maintaining military operations in the zone, thus jeopardizing the security of rebels and hostages and scuttling the release.

But in a bombshell announcement, Uribe countered that the real reason FARC wasn't releasing the hostages was because it didn't have Rojas' son, Emmanuel. The government had been tipped last week, Uribe said, that a child likely to be Rojas' son had been given up two years ago to child welfare officials in the eastern jungle city of San Jose de Guaviare.

On Friday, Colombian Atty. Gen. Mario Iguaran said the DNA tests show "highly specific traces in common" among blood samples from the 3-year-old boy, Rojas' brother Ivan and their mother, Clara Gonzalez de Rojas.

Tests to confirm the results are to be done in Spain.

The episode probably will embarrass Chavez, who this week blamed Uribe for "dynamiting" the hostage release to damage him and the rebels.

"Chavez said he believed the FARC more than Uribe, that this was an invention of the Colombian government," said Augusto Ramirez, former Colombian foreign minister and now a professor at Javeriana University. "Now this gesture by the FARC has been shown to be a trick."

A statement on a website that often carries FARC messages conceded Friday that the boy in foster care is Emmanuel, but claimed that Uribe ordered him seized in order to sabotage the hostages' release to Chavez. The statement could not be independently confirmed. It said the other two hostages would be freed.

The details of the child's history were released Friday by investigators and family welfare officials.

In June 2005, when he was barely a year old, the child was taken to a hospital in the eastern jungle region of Colombia by a man named Jose Crisanto Gomez, who identified himself as the boy's grandfather.

The baby was admitted under the name Juan David Gomez for treatment of leishmaniasis and dysentery, but authorities retained custody because he showed signs of malnutrition and mistreatment.

The man has since told government officials that FARC rebels, concerned about the boy's health, forced him to take care of the child but that he took him to a hospital when his condition worsened.

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chris.kraul@latimes.com

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