Red Cross: Colombia lied about using emblem

/ Source: The Associated Press

The International Red Cross said Wednesday that Colombia broke the Geneva Conventions by deliberately using its humanitarian 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 International Committee of the Red Cross said.

"It seems to be a deliberate improper use of the emblem," said Anna Schaaf, an ICRC spokesman.

She said this was 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.

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

After footage showing one member wearing the red cross emblem surfaced, President Alvaro Uribe apologized to the Red Cross for the incident but described it as an unauthorized error by a nervous soldier.

Cesar Mauricio Velasquez, Uribe's press secretary, said he could not immediately comment on the new report.

ICRC chief spokesman Florian Westphal said at the time that the Geneva-based relief group accepted Uribe's explanation.

"The situation is different for us now," said Schaaf.

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