After six years of captivity in the Colombian jungle, the Colombian-French politician Ingrid Betancourt has been freed. Betancourt was kidnapped in 2002 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) while campaigning for the Colombian presidency in San Vicente del Caguan, Colombia—an area of high guerrilla presence. She is said to have been the highest-profile captive held by the FARC guerillas.
Betancourt’s capture caused a media flurry in France due to her dual French citizenship, and her plight has been followed closely in that country. France’s current President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged after his election last year to make her liberation a priority.
Colombian soldiers, posing as members of a non-government organization, airlifted the hostages to freedom in a helicopter. Betancourt, 46, was among fifteen hostages rescued as their rebel captors were tricked by military spies into handing them over—without firing a single shot. The audacious mission involved months of intelligence gathering and stunning deceit: the rebels unwittingly shoved the captives onto a white unmarked MI-17 helicopter, thinking the hostages were simply being transferred to another guerrilla camp.
When the captives were told that they were free, "the helicopter almost fell from the sky because we all jumped, shouted, cried and embraced", Ms Betancourt said. Betancourt praised the mission saying, "There is no historical precedent for such a perfect operation.”
One day after her release, Betancourt was reunited with her daughter Melanie, 22, and her son, Lorenzo, 19. In an emotional reunion, Betancourt raced to the stairway of the French government plane that flew her children to Bogota and embraced them.
Betancourt said she would now work tirelessly for the freedom of all hostages being held FARC rebels. "It is most important that every Colombian feels that we will free them—that our brothers in the jungle will return," she said.
Other prisoners released alongside Betancourt included three Americans and eleven members of the Colombian security forces, all said to be in relatively good health. FARC, which has been waging a war of independence for the past forty years, still holds more than 40 high-profile hostages.