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Betancourt rescued after six years in captivi -

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Betancourt rescued after six years in captivity

The World Today - Thursday, 3 July , 2008 12:26:00

Reporter: Barbara Miller

ELEANOR HALL: The former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt has been speaking about
the moment she realised she was free after six years as a hostage of the Columbian rebel group,
FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia).

The French-Colombian national was rescued along with 14 other hostages in a clandestine operation
by the Colombian military.

Barbara Miller has our report.

BARBARA MILLER: The last time the world saw Ingrid Betancourt she appeared weak, dejected and in
ill health. That was in a video shot in captivity last year.

Today she smiled, looked relaxed and appeared to be in remarkably good health as she emerged from a
military aircraft just hours after being rescued, and hugged her mother, a former Miss Colombia.

It's been more than six years since Ingrid Betancourt was captured while campaigning for the
Colombian presidency.

She was freed along with 14 other hostages after Colombian soldiers tricked rebels into handing
them over by posing as members of a fictitious organisation who said they would fly the hostages to
meet the FARC leader.

INGRID BETANCOURT (translated): This is a miracle. This is a miracle that I want to share with all
of you because I know that all of you suffered with my family, with my children, with me. This is a
moment of pride for all of us Colombians. There is no historical precedent for such a perfect
operation.

BARBARA MILLER: Ms Betancourt, who is 46, described the moment the hostages realised their ordeal
was over.

INGRID BETANCOURT (translated): The chief of operations said, "We are the national army and you are
all free." And the helicopter almost fell because we started jumping. We screamed, we cried, we
hugged. We couldn't believe it.

BARBARA MILLER: Colombians have been celebrating the news of Ms Betancourt's release.

Massimo Coletti is an Australian who lived in Colombia for many years and is now in Medellin.

MASSIMO COLETTI: Medellin is jubilant. Everybody is seeing this as a turning point towards the
fight with the guerillas.

BARBARA MILLER: So what's the atmosphere like on the streets there?

MASSIMO COLETTI: Festive. Everybody is talking about it, everybody is in a state of jubilation.

BARBARA MILLER: What do you think it is about Ingrid Betancourt that's really captured people's
imagination?

MASSIMO COLETTI: The long suffering that she did. She tried very hard. She was one of the few
politicians that was regarded as, she wasn't corrupt. And she fought very much for the people, a
people person.

BARBARA MILLER: Ingrid Betancourt is a dual French-Colombian national and France has been heavily
involved in efforts to free her.

The French President Nicolas Sarkozy called a news conference on hearing that the rescue operation
had succeeded.

NICOLAS SARKOZY (translated): Ladies and gentlemen, this evening Ingrid Betancourt is free. Today
her hardship of over six years is over. Ingrid is in good health. She's on a Colombian military
base. My first words are to say how happy we are.

BARBARA MILLER: Standing beside the French President, Ingrid's Betancourt's daughter was breathless
as she spoke of her joy.

MELANIE DELLOYE (translated): Good evening. It is the moment for which we have waited for so long.
I think we as a family do not have the words to express how we are feeling. We are waiting for the
moment when we can hold her in our arms.

I would like above all to thank the President because really since he took things in hand,
everything has come together and today, Mummy is here.

BARBARA MILLER: In Australia the Greens leader Bob Brown who has campaigned for Ms Betancourt's
release could hardly contain his happiness.

BOB BROWN: I went to Bogota after she was ...

(Birds break into song)

There you go, it's very symbolic. The birds are happy too!

BARBARA MILLER: Bob Brown says Ms Betancourt is an incredible woman.

BOB BROWN: In the centre of this is this remarkable human being, Ingrid Betancourt. It's such a
great thing for us all that she's alive and she's back and she's free. And she's looking good.

BARBARA MILLER: This is a much needed boost for the Colombian President Alvaro Uribe who has been
under a lot of international pressure to rescue the hostages and has at times been upstaged in his
efforts by the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The fact that Ingrid Betancourt, three US Defence Department contractors and 11 Colombian soldiers
have now been rescued in this operation is yet another blow to FARC. The group has lost three
senior leaders this year alone and has been trying to regroup under the new leader Alfonso Cano.

But no-one is yet writing off FARC's ability to fund its campaign through extortion and drug
trafficking and the group still holds hundreds of hostages.

In Paris, Ingrid Betancourt's daughter Melanie urged the world not to forget them.

MELANIE DELLOYE (translated): There are still hostages in the jungle and we should not forget them.
We should continue to fight for their liberation and we do not forget those who have not come back
because they died during these years.

BARBARA MILLER: Ms Betancourt's daughter, who is 22, and her brother Lorenzo, who is 19, are now
making their way to Colombia to be reunited with their mother.

ELEANOR HALL: Barbara Miller reporting.