July 5, 2008

France Hails Betancourt’s Return

The Associated Press


Arriving to a hero's welcome in France, Ingrid Betancourt said Friday that she cried a lot during her six years as a prisoner in the Colombian jungle. On Friday, she said, "I cry with joy."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife met the French Colombian politician at an air base southwest of Paris, showering her with hugs, kisses and smiles.

Betancourt, 46, became a cause celebre in France after her abduction in 2002 while campaigning for Colombia's presidency. During her captivity by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, supporters around France held candlelight vigils and benefit concerts to attract world attention to her plight.

Her release in a Colombian military operation Wednesday was greeted here with a flood of enthusiasm. Hundreds of people, some waving Colombian or French flags, many with cameras, lined up Friday behind police barriers around Paris' Elysee presidential palace in hopes of catching a glimpse of her.

"France is my home and you are my family," Betancourt said in an address from the wind-swept runway broadcast live on French television.

Sarkozy praised Betancourt as a beacon of hope for people in dire situations.

Speaking later at a reception in a gilded hall at the presidential palace, Betancourt urged Sarkozy to keep fighting for the liberation of the hostages still in the FARC's hands, estimated by Colombia's government to number about 700.

Also Friday, a videotape recorded during the rescue of 15 rebel hostages was presented at Colombia's military headquarters. It shows them filing grim-faced toward the helicopter that would fly them to safety, then hugging one another and crying with joy after they are aloft and realize they are free.

T he hostages' hands are bound with plastic for what they believe is a flight to another rebel camp .

American Keith Stansell nears the camera. "I love my family," Stansell, one of three Americans freed in the operation, tells the cameraman in a big jungle clearing. "Pray a lot."

The local commander, alias Cesar, is put on camera but cheerfully declines an interview. A Colombian hostage talks to the camera.

The video was shot by Colombian soldiers posing as a media crew during Wednesday's operation, in which the military tricked rebels into giving up the hostages.

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