As Paris awaits the arrival of ex-hostage Ingrid Betancourt on Friday, revellers gathered in front of the city's town hall, where a giant poster of Betancourt had been up during her captivity.
Celebrations led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy sparked across cities in France as news spread that FARC hostage Franco-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt was finally free.
Large crowds gathered outside Hotel de Ville in Paris where portraits and banners calling for Betancourt’s release have been hanging all along her ordeal.
“The people here are ecstatic but there is a note of disbelief since the news broke so fast,” FRANCE 24’s Christopher Moore reported from Hotel de Ville. “The support committee which has been campaigning for Betancourt’s release for the past six years have organised a big party which will be attended by high-profile figures," Moore said.
“We’re eagerly waiting to see Ingrid Betancourt,” Hervé Marro, a jubilant support committee member told FRANCE 24. “But we have to get back to work and fight for the liberation of the rest of the hostages,” Marro added.
The gathering will be attended by high-profile figures including Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, whose immediate reaction was “She is free!” he said “Her freedom is our freedom”. Delanoe also called for the liberation of other FARC hostages.
“We’re very proud of President Alvaro Uribe. The Colombian army carried out the operation without any aid,” Maria-Béatrice Rocha, a 28-year-old Colombian student in Paris told FRANCE 24 outside the Paris city hall. Rocha’s only regret is that other hostages freed along with Betancourt haven’t been given as much media attention. “Betancourt isn’t a heroine in Colombia, the way she is here,” Rocha said. The others are also heros in the war against the FARC.”
Rocha’s 78-year-old father, Alvaro Rocha, heard of Betancourt’s rescue on his way to France. “I’m very happy. Ingrid went to high school with my elder daughter; I’m also happy because the Colombian military succeeded in their operation,” Rocha told FRANCE 24’s correspondent at Hotel de Ville.
Thirty-year-old Hélène Maeva came to attend the event all the way from the western town of Poitiers. ”I heard about Betancourt while driving,” Maeva told FRANCE 24. “I stopped, parked – I was in shock” she said. “I slept very little because I wanted to see the first images after she was rescued and I took the train to Paris early this morning”.
Maeva is one of the many people in France, led by Betancourt’s family, who waged a campaign during her six-year long imprisonment, organising marches and events across the country.
“Each year on 23 February (the day Betancourt was kidnapped in 2002) I took part in the march, even if I had to take a day off from work,” Maeva said.
A smiling Ingrid Betancourt wearing camouflage fatigues and a hat after her release was the front-page photo in most French dailies on Thursday morning.
Betancourt is due to take down the banner hanging outside Hotel de Ville after she arrives in Paris on Friday afternoon.
Honorary citizen of Paris
Betancourt, a dual national and a former Colombian presidential candidate, spent much of her youth in France and became a French national after marrying French diplomat Fabrice Delloye.
Ingrid Betancourt is an honorary citizen not just of Paris but of many other cities across France.
President Sarkozy had made Betancourt’s release a priority of his presidency after taking office in May last year.
A French medical rescue mission was rushed to Colombia in April 2008 following alarming reports that she was seriously ill with Hepatitis B and was increasingly depressed. But the mission was abandoned after guerrillas rejected the initiative in a setback to attempts to free scores of captives.
Date created : 2008-07-03