Colombian president apologises over misuse of Red Cross symbol

By staff writers
July 17, 2008

Colombian president Alvaro Uribe has admitted that a Red Cross symbol was worn by a member of the military rescue mission that freed 15 hostages including Ingrid Betancourt from Farc rebels recently.

Mr Uribe expressed 'regret' over the incident, which potentially poses a threat to aid workers caught up in conflict.

The neutrality of the Red Cross (which is a symbol derived from Swiss emblem rather than a Christian one) is vital to its operations.

Its misuse is a violation of the Geneva Conventions and international law.

The Colombian government that use of the Red Cross symbol had been an error, made by a nervous soldier acting against orders.

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

The president issued an apology to the international NGO, but said that he would not be seeking to identify and punish the official responsible - who displayed the Red Cross emblem on clothing worn by Colombian intelligence officers during the rescue mission to free Farc hostages on 2 July 2008.

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," he added.

Falsely portraying military personnel as Red Cross workers could put humanitarian workers at risk when carrying out missions in war zones.

Yves Heller, a Red Cross spokesman based in Bogota, told the BBC and other news agencies: "Parties to the conflict must respect the Red Cross emblem at all times and under all circumstances."

He confirmed that "we will continue working in the field in Colombia."

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