French foreign minister to visit Colombia

France's foreign minister will travel to Colombia on Thursday to meet with President Alvaro Uribe and express France's support for a possible deal with leftist rebels over hostages. Philippe Douste-Blazy was expected to offer France's support for a prospective "humanitarian accord" between the Colombian government and FARC rebels toward the possible liberation of hostages the group holds, including Colombian-French politician Ingrid Betancourt, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said Monday.

The minister also was scheduled to meet with other top Colombian officials and hostages' relatives, the spokesman said. The Foreign Ministry announced earlier this month that Douste-Blazy would travel to Colombia, but did not give a specific date.

The announcement raised speculation that France would renew pressure for a prisoner exchange initiative between the Colombian government and the biggest rebel group, the FARC.

Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate, was kidnapped by the FARC while campaigning nearly four years ago. The rebel group rejected a French-Spanish-Swiss prisoner exchange effort earlier this month, but Douste-Blazy's trip may put more pressure on the guerrillas to accept a deal, reports the AP. N.U.