Captive for 6 years from the jungle of Colombia, Betancourt a former candidate for Colombia’s presidency is now in France; given a hero’s welcome led by no less than President Nicolas Sarkozy, she will “undergo medical exams Saturday at Val-de-Grace military hospital in Paris.” She said it’s very moving in her part to be breathing the air from France. “France is my home and you are my family,” telling it to supporters and reporters who met her at the tarmac.
Freed hostage gets hero’s welcome in France
By ANGELA DOLAND, Associated Press Writer
PARIS – “I cry with joy,” Ingrid Betancourt said. And she did. After six years as a hostage in the Colombian jungle, the former Colombian presidential candidate and French citizen flew back to her beloved France to be embraced Friday as an icon by the country that raised her.
A hero’s welcome — led byPresident Nicolas Sarkozy — greeted Betancourt from the moment she descended from the plane at the Villacoublay air base southwest of Paris. A dual French-Colombian citizen, Betancourt was campaigning for Colombia’s presidency when she was kidnapped in 2002.
Betancourt won a hug from Sarkozy — who called her “radiant” — and a kiss from first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Talking excitedly and smiling broadly, they were joined by Betancourt’s children, other family members and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
“It’s a very, very moving moment for me: Breathing the air of France, being with you,” Betancourt told supporters and reporters gathered on the windswept tarmac. “France is my home and you are my family.”
“I have cried a lot during this time from pain and indignation. Today, I am crying from joy,” she said, her voice choked and eyes moist.
Betancourt’s captivity caused widespread concern in France, and her supporters held candlelight vigils and marches around the country urging efforts to free her from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Her release Wednesday in an ingenious Colombian military operation along with 14 other hostages prompted celebrations around France.
Betancourt appealed to Sarkozy for help in freeing thousands of other hostages who remain in Colombia’s jungles.
“I still need you, because we cannot leave them where they are,” she said at later at a party in her honor at the presidential palace. “They are suffering, they are alone.”
Sarkozy said Betancourt’s rescue sends a message to people in difficult situations that “it’s worth it to fight. There is no such thing as inevitability.”
“All those who suffer, like you, throughout the world should know that … there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said in greeting her. “You are free, radiant, with your life ahead of you and surrounded by your family.”
Betancourt, her family and supporters later went to a party at the presidential palace staged in her honor Friday. Hundreds of people, some carrying Colombian or French flags and many with cameras, lined up behind police barriers around the Elysee palacein hopes of getting a glimpse of her.
She exhibited a sense of humor in describing her ordeal in the jungle. “There was no sun, no sky, just a green ceiling. I am very ecological, but no, that was too much,” she said, to laughter from the gathered supporters.
Betancourt was to undergo medical exams Saturday at Val-de-Grace military hospital in Paris, Sarkozy’s office said. It said the chief doctor in the French president’s office, Christophe Fernandez, already gave Betancourt a preliminary medical exam aboard the French government plane that carried her to France.
From the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI sent word Friday that he would be happy to meet with Betancourt as soon as his schedule permits. He had met with her mother at theVatican in February.
Betancourt spent much of her childhood in France and attended university at Paris’ Institut d’Etudes Politiques. Her own children — Melanie, 22, and Lorenzo, 19 — reached adulthood in Paris during her captivity.
Betancourt was reunited with her children in Colombia on Thursday. Interviewed byEurope-1 radio before her arrival in France, said she was proud of how her children had forged “extraordinary characters” in her absence.
She recalled humiliating treatment by the FARC, saying she had to wear chains 24 hours a day for three years.
“When you have a chain around your neck, you have to keep your head down and try to accept your fate without succumbing entirely to humiliation, without forgetting who you are,” she said.
Sarkozy made freeing Betancourt a priority the night he was elected France’s president in May 2007. The previous government of Jacques Chirac also worked for her release, and then-Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is a longtime friend of Betancourt.
Betancourt’s release was a big image boost for Sarkozy; even his rivals acknowledged that his diplomatic efforts kept up the pressure on Colombia to find ways to get her released.
But Sarkozy had been pushing for negotiations with the FARC, not a military raid, and his top aide said he was not informed of the operation that freed her until minutes before the first Colombian media reports about it emerged.