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Colombia: DNA identifies child of rebel hostage

DNA analysis indicates a 3-year-old boy living in a Bogota foster home is the child of a woman held captive by leftist rebels for nearly six years, Colombia's top prosecutor said Friday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

DNA analysis indicates a 3-year-old boy living in a Bogota foster home is the child of a woman held captive by leftist rebels for nearly six years, Colombia's top prosecutor said Friday.

The results suggest President Alvaro Uribe was right — and that the leftist rebels misled Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the world when they promised to release the boy named Emmanuel along with his mother Clara Rojas and another hostage from their jungle camps.

"The conclusion of the scientific experts is that there's a greater probability the boy belongs to the Rojas family than to any other family," chief federal prosecutor Mario Iguaran announced, citing an "absolute" match between the mitochondrial DNA of the child and that of Rojas' mother and brother.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, promised two weeks ago to release the boy fathered by a leftist rebel, along with Rojas and former congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez. Chavez assembled a team of international observers and invited filmmaker Oliver Stone to participate, along with a media horde.

But the rebels never told Chavez where to pick them up and blamed operations by Colombia's U.S.-backed military when it called off the liberation of the three hostages on New Year's Eve.

Renamed Juan David Gomez
Uribe meanwhile made the shocking announcement that the rebels couldn't keep their promises because they didn't have the boy, who had been living in a Bogota foster home under a different name, Juan David Gomez, for more than two years.

The DNA result points to a major embarrassment for the FARC, exposing its plan to release the three hostages as either an elaborate ruse, internal disarray or miscommunication between rebel commanders and the decentralized units where the hostages are being held.

Iguaran said it would take another two weeks for a European laboratory to confirm the preliminary DNA analysis, after which child welfare agents would determine whether the Rojas family should be granted temporary custody.

"I'm sure the boy is my nephew," Ivan Rojas, brother of Clara, told reporters gathered outside his office in Bogota.

He said the Rojas family "looks forward to having him with us soon," but their top priority remains the freedom of the boy's mother, now held hostage for almost six years.

"If anybody has any doubt about the boy's paternity, then Clara should freed so we can do a direct exam between mother and son," said Rojas. "Only with my sister freed can we settle the issue once and for all."

Descriptions match
Even before Friday's announcement, descriptions of Emmanuel provided by an escaped hostage held with Rojas matched those of Juan David.

In 2005, a peasant claiming to be the boy's great uncle handed the boy over to child welfare agents in San Jose de Guaviare, a FARC stronghold. He was then immediately transported to Bogota to receive treatment for a broken arm, malaria and jungle-borne leishminiasis.

He's since been living in a Bogota foster home, unbeknownst to the Rojas family, who may have even seen their grandchild in a televised adoption advertisement.

Acting on a death threat by the FARC to produce the child by Dec. 30, the peasant appointed by the FARC to be the boy's custodian, Jose Gomez, tried to reclaim the boy, this time claiming to be his father, the Colombian government said.

True identity to be determined
Gomez is now in Bogota, cooperating with authorities trying to determine the child's real identity.

The government celebrated the DNA findings on Friday.

"We're enormously satisfied that this boy, who was held in terrible conditions, can today finally be reunited with his family," peace commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo said.

Venezuela complained that Colombia had not permitted its own team of specialists to take blood samples from the boy to make its own confirmation of the DNA results.

"I told the Colombian foreign minister that that attitude casts a cloak of doubt on the investigation," Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro told state television Friday.