Ex-hostage Ingrid Betancourt returns to Colombia

Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian politician snatched by FARC rebels while running for president in 2002 and held hostage for six years before being released in July, paid a surprise visit to Colombia on Saturday.


Former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt arrived in Colombia Saturday for the first time since she was rescued from guerrillas after a six-year hostage ordeal, authorities said.

Betancourt arrived in Bogota from Paris on a commercial flight that landed shortly after 2100 GMT at Bogota's El Dorado international airport.

"I am very happy to be here," she told one of the hostesses who greeted her at the El Dorado International Airport.

Betancourt, accompanied by her mother Yolanda Pulecio, was welcomed by French ambassador Jean-Michel Marlaud.

She is scheduled to hold a private meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in the evening, officials said.

Betancourt, 46, who holds dual Colombian and French citizenship, had flown to France with her family three weeks after her release on July 2.

Her visit to Colombia five months after her rescue will be brief since she has often stated she fears for her life here after receiving death threats from FARC rebels, her former captors, a diplomat told AFP.

Speculating on whether she would visit Colombia, Herve Marro, head of a support group in Colombia, had said that "if she does, she will not stay very long due to security concerns," he added.

Following her stay in the Colombian capital, she will "take a tour of Latin America," members of her entourage in Paris said, declining to provide a detailed schedule.

The Green Party's presidential candidate in 2002, when she was taken hostage, Betancourt presented a committee of supporters her plans for a human rights foundation. A committee official said her Latin American visit was intended to promote the project.

The online edition of Brazil's O Globo daily said Betancourt would meet with Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in Sao Paulo on Friday.

Betancourt's visit to Colombia comes 24 hours after tens of thousands marched in France, Spain and across Colombia demanding the release of hostages still being held by the FARC, Latin America's largest and longest-fighting rebel group.

Betancourt headed a demonstration in Madrid alongside Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

Betancourt was rescued along with 14 other hostages on July 2 in a daring operation by army commandos that tricked their Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel captors into thinking they were delivering their captives to the Red Cross.

Betancourt was rescued together with two US contractors and eleven members of the Colombian armed forces.

FARC is still believed to be holding between 350 and 700 hostages, including 28 so-called "political hostages" that the rebels want to swap for about 500 imprisoned guerrillas.

While tens of thousands marched in some 200 Colombian cities on Friday to demand the release of thousands of hostages held by FARC and other rebel and criminal groups in the country, the demonstrations were far less numerous than in July 20, when some four million Colombians turned out to voice outrage at the ongoing hostage situation.

The low turnout on Friday was in part blamed on the ill feelings many Colombians have toward Betancourt for leaving their country so soon after her rescue.

"We feel deeply for her six years of captivity, but she's using the (hostage) issue as a political platform," Oscar Morales, the founder of the "One Million Voices Against FARC" movement founder, told Bogota's El Tiempo newspaper.

Betancourt has indicated that she did not wish to return to politics in Colombia.

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