As Ingrid Betancourt checked into a Paris hospital for extensive medical tests Saturday, the Colombian military released video footage to dispel reports that a ransom was paid to FARC guerrillas to free the former Franco-Colombian hostage.
The video, which was released at a Colombian military press conference Friday night, showed Betancourt and 14 other handcuffed hostages being led to a waiting helicopter. Seconds later, the footage showed emotional scenes of jubilation aboard the aircraft as the hostages discovered they had been freed.
The footage was released to counter a report by Radio Suisse Romande, a Swiss radio station, that two FARC rebels guarding the hostages were paid 20 million dollars as a bribe to have them betray the group.
The Colombian government maintains that Betancourt’s dramatic rescue Wednesday after more than six years in captivity followed an undercover infiltration operation by the Colombian military.
No shots were fired during the mission, which has been hailed as a major boost for Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s hardline stance against the FARC and a testament to the sophistication of the country’s intelligence operations.
Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos has denied reports that the hostages’ guards were bribed and has also dismissed claims that foreign nationals had participated in either the planning or execution of the rescue operation.
In a speech delivered in Spain Saturday, Santos said the rescue mission was moved forward by 10 days since Colombian authorities were worried about a possible leak.
The operation, Santos insisted, was not a military one as there were no armed participants.
Missing middle portion of video
A day after the military footage was released, the Colombian media noted that the video only showed the hostages as they boarded the plane and after they discovered they were liberated. The critical middle portion of the operation, several Colombian dailies noted, were absent.
But reporting from the Colombian capital of Bogota Saturday, FRANCE 24’s Cyril Vanier said the leading Colombian daily, El Tiempo reported that the military had edited the original 15-minute version down to three minutes.
“They edited out anything that would give clues as to the identities of the Colombian undercover officials involved in the mission,” said Vanier.
The FARC Marxist guerrillas are believed to be holding hundreds of other hostages.
Colombian military denies explosives were linked to rescued hostages
Meanwhile, Colombian military officials said the army had seized about a ton of explosives at a farm outside Bogota Saturday.
The seizure came amid fears of FARC reprisal attacks following the liberation of the leftist guerrilla group’s most high profile hostage.
But speaking from Facatativa, a town about 40 kilometers from Bogota, where the explosives are being stored at a military base, Vanier said a Colombian military official had denied that the explosives had anything to do with reprisal attacks.
The official, said Vanier, stressed that it was “unrelated to the release of Ingrid Betancourt, he stressed that this happens frequently across the country, this is a war (against the FARC) that the army is waging on a daily basis.”
Betancourt gets clean bill of health
In Paris, Betancourt emerged from a day of medical tests at the Val-de-Grace military clinic with an apparent clean bill of health.
“Over the years, I’ve had some medical worries, but now, total joy,” she told a France 3.
Medical experts however caution that the psychological effects of more than six years of captivity will be harder to overcome.
“She will have to reconstruct herself,” Louis Crocq, a psychiatrist and professor at the Paris-based René Descartes University, told FRANCE 24. “It will be necessary not to go back to her old self, she will have to rebuild a new personality.”
Betancourt's medical tests came a day after the 46-year-old former Colombian presidential candidate landed in France to a hero’s welcome.