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Latest update : 2008-07-04

French-Colombian ex-hostage Ingrid Betancourt left Bogota for Paris with her newly-reunited family. President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would be there to welcome her when she arrives.

"It's a miracle to see Ingrid here" - read the extraordinary story of Ingrid Betancourt's liberation


Experience the atmosphere in Bogota from one of France 24's eyewitness observers


Click here to send us your reactions following Ingrid Betancourt's rescue


Less than 48 hours after her dramatic rescue from the Colombian jungle, where she has been held for six years by FARC rebels, former Franco-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt left Bogota aboard a plane chartered by the French government.


"I look forward to being home in France," said Betancourt, who studied and raised two children in the French capital, said Thursday.


Her return promises to be heroic. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would be there to welcome her when she arrives. Already on Thursday, hundreds of her French supporters had gathered in front of Paris' City Hall to celebrate her newfound freedom.


Betancourt was finally reunited with her family, including her two children Melanie and Lorenzo Dolloye, on Thursday. “Mélanie is a young woman now and Lorenzo a young man,” a tearful Betancourt told reporters as she welcomed her children."The last time I saw my children, Lorenzo was very small ... I could lift him up."


French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who travelled to Bogota with Betancourt's relatives, thanked Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and those who contributed to Betancourt’s release. “It’s a miracle to see Ingrid here but I can’t forget the other hostages who’re still being held by the FARC. This is a strong family and they must help liberate the others,” Kouchner told reporters in Bogota.


Meanwhile in France, Sarkozy’s top aide said France played no role in the Colombian mission to rescue Betancourt and 14 other hostages. “In this specific operation, the French did not take part," Claude Gueant told France 3 television. "We learned of the outcome 15 minutes before Colombian press agencies began reporting it."



Freedom at last



Freed on Wednesday in a dramatic operation by the Colombian military, Betancourt gave a lengthy news conference upon her arrival in Bogota. She appeared in good health, laughing with Colombian soldiers and the other hostages freed during the operation. 


“I’d like to thank God and all those who thought of me, who kept me in their hearts and accompanied me. To all the Colombians, the French who kept us in their hearts,” she said in a press conference held on the runway of the military airport in Bogota. “The operation conducted by the army of my country, the Colombian army, was absolutely flawless,” she then said in French.


She also had a message for France, which she delivered in French. “Thank you, my sweet France,” she said. “Thank you for accompanying me all these years. (…) I’m Colombian but I’m also French, my heart is split.”


Betancourt thanked Sarkozy, “who fought for me with my family,” and also former French President Jacques Chirac - “who extended his hand at a time when fighting for Colombian hostages was politically inappropriate.”


Uribe praised the army in a press conference late Wednesday night for carrying out the difficult rescue operation “without a drop of blood or a single gun shot.”  “This is an intelligence operation comparable to the most famous epics in history,” he added.


Three American hostages and 11 Colombian soldiers were rescued along with Betancourt. The three Americans landed early on Thursday in San Antonio, Texas. Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes, all defence contractors, were captured in 2003 after their light aircraft crashed in the jungle while on a counter-narcotics operation.

Date created : 2008-07-04