Apr. 21 - Blazing Saddles much? Heh.
May 31 - After the French voted "Non" on approving the EU constitution, President Chirac was expected to replace Jean-Pierre Raffarin as Prime Minister yet I must admit when I read this, Chirac named De Villepin prime minister to head new French government, I began to laugh.
Good old de Villepin. What an excellent choice. Despite his hauteur, he seems to have a bit of cowboy in him.
In August, 2003, the news broke that De Villepin had been involved in a botched attempt in July to free his former student, beauty queen and Columbian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt who had been kidnapped over a year earlier by FARC guerillistas. It was rumoured that he had offered money and medical treatment - and perhaps weapons - to a rebel leader in exchange for Betancourt's freedom, and that he tried to fly secretly from Brazil into Columbia without advising either the Brazilian or Columbian governments.
Tension between France and Brazil rose on Thursday when Samuel Pinheiro Guimaraes, the Brazilian deputy foreign minister, said M de Villepin had given information which proved false.Finally, the details came out:
One deputy demanded the expulsion of French diplomats, saying they "would do better not to treat us like one of their African colonies".
In a written statement, M de Villepin offered his apology to his Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim, who accepted.
According to leaks from disgruntled officials at the Quai d'Orsay, the French foreign ministry, Mr de Villepin authorised the launch of "L'Operation 14 Juillet", to secure her release. His critics claim that he hoped to score a dazzling diplomatic coup by bringing Betancourt home on Bastille Day. Instead, Mr de Villepin is now carrying the can for a hideously bungled affair that not only seriously embarrassed his boss, President Jacques Chirac, but appears to have damaged the prospects of the hostage walking free in the near future.Astrid, Betancourt's sister, had contacted de Villepin (but not the Columbian government) after she learned that FARC might be willing to release Ingrid.
Back in Paris, Mr de Villepin had told his senior adviser on Latin America, Pierre-Henri Guignard (who doubles as his deputy chief of staff) to set L'Operation 14 Juillet in motion. Guignard quickly assembled an experienced "protection team" from the Direction GÚnÚrale de la SecuritÚ Exterieure (DGSE), the French equivalent of MI6. An 11-man squad of agents, including pilots, a doctor and communications specialists with jungle navigational equipment, set off with him for Manaus on July 8.Chirac has "charged de Villepin with
The unheralded arrival of the C-130 the following day, ostensibly to refuel en route for French Guyana, mystified the Brazilian authorities. Why would the aircraft make a 620-mile detour when it could more easily have flown directly to its destination?
When airport police requested a routine check of the Hercules, the entire French team produced official passports and claimed diplomatic immunity to prevent any such inspection. Most of them then set off for the palatial Hotel Tropical, bearing large metal cases. By the time Guignard and his three rugged colleagues left on their chartered flight to Sao Paulo de Olivena - directly across the river from the town where Astrid Betancourt was waiting - the Brazilian federal police were hard on their trail.
According to the flight plan that de Abreu [the pilot they hired] filed, the Caraja was to remain at the landing strip until four other passengers arrived the following afternoon, July 10. As soon as they arrived, the French team took a water taxi to the Flamingo hotel. Guignard [a priest who was Astrid's contact] then set off to contact another priest, Father Pedro, who had been enlisted to help on the Brazilian side. For de Abreu, the situation was becoming alarming: during the flight he had been questioned about his night-flying experience and his plane's ability to land on rough terrain.
Unnoticed by his new companions, he returned to the airstrip and flew to a neighbouring town where a police unit was stationed. "I informed them that I suspected a plot to seize my aircraft in mid-flight and divert it to another destination," he told Le Monde. "They advised me that the Frenchmen were already under surveillance and that I should return to Sao Paulo de Olivena and await developments."
Across the river in Colombia, Astrid was now fretting about the lack of progress in her own role in the mission. Despite making every attempt to be "visible" around town should Farc representatives be present, no contact had occurred. On impulse she made the long river trip back to Leticia to await further news. "I sat looking out over the Amazon watching dolphins leap and dreaming that suddenly I would see Ingrid's face on a boat arriving, and that I would almost die from the emotion of the moment," she says.
In fact, the rescue plan was rapidly unravelling. On July 11, after waiting in vain for Ingrid's expected passage into Brazil - the French team believed that if Ingrid was to be freed her captors would deliver her to the Brazilian border town Sao Paulo de Olivena - Guignard and his team flew back to Manaus, leaving a note at the Flamingo hotel asking Astrid to contact them at the Tropical hotel.
When they arrived, federal police detained them for questioning in the presence of the French honorary consul. All four invoked diplomatic immunity, providing only a work address in Paris: Boulevard Mortier, the headquarters of the DGSE. Soon after midday on July 13, the Hercules took off on the return flight to France where a political scandal was developing fast.
Unknown to the French authorities, a photographer for the respected Brazilian newspaper Carta Capital had been tipped off about the story and had taken a picture of the French plane on the runway at Manaus. The Brazilian media, quoting senior officials, then reported that it may have been carrying weapons destined for Farc as the ransom for Betancourt.
Both Mr Chirac and the French prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, were abroad when the first reports about the rescue mission appeared in the French media. Each immediately issued stringent denials, Mr Chirac insisting that "this kind of operation would not have happened without me being informed, and I was not informed". When he saw the photographs from Manaus airport last weekend, officials confided, he exploded in fury.
As more embarrassing details about L'Operation 14 Juillet began to leak out, the French government abruptly changed tack, flatly denying that any "direct negotiations" had taken place with Farc.
Last week, Farc intensified the debate by announcing that it had never considered liberating Betancourt or any other of its several hundred captives - among them three American CIA men - without direct negotiations with the Colombian authorities about the release of its own members being held by the military.
Raffarin, in a short address after the president accepted his resignation, promised that his successor would work to bring a significant drop in unemployment in the last two years of Chirac's second term - which could be his last.One of the most unpopular prime ministers in less than 50 years? How many unpopular prime ministers have there been?
"I confirm this commitment, even if the drop in the dollar and the rise in oil prices delay it for a few months," he said.
Raffarin defended his three-year record as prime minister, saying he acted to protect the future of the pension system and state health care, among other programs.
"I have always been aware that what is healthy for the nation does not go unblamed by public opinion," said Raffarin. Polls showed that he was one of the most unpopular prime ministers of the French Fifth Republic that was founded in 1958.
By the way, Nicholas Sarkozy will return to his former position as Interior Minister.
May 10 - Let's see how Yes, but apologists for terrorism will spin this: IRA training and tactics help Colombian rebels:
Colombia's most senior general has blamed the improved fighting of rebels on their alleged training by instructors linked to the IRA.I blame globalization.
The deployment of a new model of home-made mortar and the more effective use of snipers by the guerrillas of Farc (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) both owe a considerable debt to tactics honed in Northern Ireland.
"What we are now seeing with the Farc is the direct result of IRA training," said Colombia's armed forces chief, Gen Carlos Alberto Ospina.
The Farc have started adding stabilising fins and new detonation methods to mortars. They now resemble the "barrack-busters" used by the IRA against the British Army. Three Irishmen, Niall Connolly, Martin McCauley and James Monaghan, were last year sentenced by a Colombian court to 17 years in jail for training the Marxist rebels in explosives and terrorism techniques. The three are currently on the run and subject to an international arrest warrant.
May 3 - A "hmm" moment: Mexico, PeruápulláCuba envoys
Apr. 27 - The three IRA members who had been accused of training Columbian terrorists in bomb-making techniques were acquitted of the charges but the prosecution has filed an appeal.
The news report says the defence destroyed key witnesses on the stand.
Feb. 10 - According to a July 2003 report prepared by the federal research division of the U.S. Library of Congress, a 1999 plot to attack Jewish targets in Ottawa foiled as well as attacks in Argentina and Paraguay but the report doesn't say which targets or how the plot was foiled. The planning took place in the Tri-Border area where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet.
[The report] ... also details how Hezbollah operatives in South America have funnelled large sums of money through Canada to finance operations in the Middle East.Humanitarian operations, no doubt. Hezbollah and the Tamil Tigers were long misunderstood - by the Canadian government, at least.
Yes, I am still pissed off that my tax dollars went to fund the activities of Ahmed Khadr, the Tamil Tigers and other terrorists.
Aug. 31 -- Ingrid Betancourt, the Columbian woman kidnapped by Columbia guerillistas while campaigning for election as president has made a video appeal:
The video, broadcast Saturday night, was the first sign that Betancourt might still be alive since rebels released a different tape in July 2002.It was on her behalf that French Foreign Min. Dominique de Villepin made a unilateral attempt to secure her freedom last July without informing either the Brazilian, Columbian and possibly even French governments of his plans. It is still a bit of a mystery what de Villepin intended to trade for her freedom, although it is suspected that money, weapons, or both were to be used.
There was no way of confirming when the tape was made.
"A rescue, yes, definitely, but not just any rescue," said Betancourt, who appeared in good health in the video shown by Noticias Uno. "It's important that it be the president who directly makes this decision," referring to Colombia President Alvaro Uribe.
Hmm, the Reuters links to the French caper have disappeared, but here one from Free Republic.