Thursday, July 03, 2008

Colombian Green Politician Ingrid Betancourt is freed!

...after 6 years, 4 months and 9 days!

3 July 2008 AFP/Expatica

BOGOTA - French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three US nationals were Wednesday rescued along with other hostages from Marxist FARC rebels in a daring jungle operation, Colombian officials said.

Betancourt, who was seized in 2002, and the three Americans held since 2003, were plucked from their captors along with 11 Colombian soldiers in a helicopter-backed military operation, Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos said.

Betancourt, a dual national, became the international face of Colombia's tragic hostage crisis after she was seized in February 2002 during her long-shot bid for the presidency.

Her plight gained new urgency in February when a former hostage warned that Betancourt was very sick and morally spent, prompting tearful appeals for her release from her two children and her mother.

The news of the rescue triggered street celebrations as in Bogota thousands of cars, with their horns blaring, packed the roads in a huge traffic jam.

Hundreds of people flooded onto the streets brandishing the national flag and shouting "Free, free, free".

"We are all free," read a huge sign posted on a building in Cali, 500 kilometres southeast of Bogota, while there were similar scenes in the northwestern city of Medellin.

Betancourt was the most well-known of about 700 people believed to have been taken captive by the FARC, a four-decade-old insurgency which figures on US and European Union lists of terrorist organisations.

Hopes for her imminent release were raised and then dashed when her former campaign manager Clara Rojas was freed by the rebels in January in a deal brokered with the help of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The three US civilians were working in Colombia as contractors for the US Defence Department and were on an anti-drug trafficking mission when their plane crashed in the jungle in the Caqueta region, a large area of coca production under rebel control.

In November, the last proof of life for the three men showed them to be in relatively good health and faring better than Betancourt.

A reward of USD 340,000 and a US visa had been offered for any information leading to their release. Washington then even pledged USD 5 million to anyone helping arrest those holding them. But in vain.

Since then Washington had kept a low-profile in the case, and there had been no international campaign to free the three, as France had organised for Betancourt.

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