French-Colombian ex-hostage Ingrid Betancourt said she owed her life to France as she arrived home to an emotional welcome.
Less than 48 hours after her “miracle” rescue from the Colombian jungle, former Franco-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt arrived in France Friday to an emotional homecoming ceremony after six years in captivity.
“I am back home,” said Betancourt in an address delivered on the tarmac of the Villacoublay Airport near Paris, where she arrived on board a French government plane, “because France is my home and you,” she said, referring to the French people, “are my family.”
Flanked by her family and French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a visibly moved Betancourt thanked the French people for a concerted awareness campaign waged during her years in captivity. “For seven years I dreamed of living this moment, of breathing the air of France, of being with you,” she said.
Betancourt has been a cause célèbre in France since she was abducted by FARC rebels in February 2002. Her photograph has hung outside Paris' City Hall for years.
After touching down at Villacoublay Airport on a sunny day, a smiling Betancourt emerged from the plane to be greeted by Sarkozy and his wife at the foot of the stairs. “We’ve been waiting for this moment for so long,” said the French president. “All of France is delighted.”
Betancourt calls for release of other hostages
At a reception hosted in her honour at the Elysée palace later on Friday, Betancourt called on Sarkozy to continue to push for the release of hundreds of hostages still being held by the Marxist FARC rebels.
“I need him to go back to Colombia,” she said as the French president looked on. “He must talk again with Uribe,” she said, referring to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, before mischievously adding, “because now, we love him, don’t we?”
In the past, Uribe was frequently vilified for his refusal to engage with the FARC rebels, a position that earned him taunts, particularly from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who dubbed Uribe a “warmonger” for his hardline stand on the leftist guerrillas.
Betancourt’s dramatic rescue - the stuff of Hollywood legends that was accomplished by Colombian military infiltration into FARC rebel ranks - has boosted Uribe’s standing in the international community and in France in particular.
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.
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