Betancourt receives French Legion of Honour
President Nicolas Sarkozy awarded France's highest distinction to Colombian former hostage Ingrid Betancourt on Monday.15 July 2008
PARIS - President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday awarded the Legion of Honour, France's highest distinction, to Colombian former hostage Ingrid Betancourt, nearly two weeks after she was rescued from rebel captivity.
At an Elysee palace garden party, Sarkozy presented her with the insignia and paid tribute to her for remaining "dignified, true, proud and courageous" during her more than six years in the grip of "medieval torturers."
"My heart aches for my companions in misfortune," said Betancourt, who appealed for their release.
"This distinction is for all those who suffered during captivity, those who will not return and all those who are hoping that their turn will come," said Betancourt in Spanish.
Betancourt, who holds also French nationality, was rescued on 2 July in an operation by Colombian spies who said they tricked her rebel captors into handing her over along with three Americans and 11 other Colombian hostages.
The 46-year-old politician was abducted in February 2002 by rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) while campaigning for the Colombian presidency.
After being reunited with her children who live in Paris, she returned to France where her ordeal in the Colombian jungle had turned her into a cause celebre.
Sarkozy personally welcomed her back and she has since been treated to honours usually reserved for a head of state, addressing the National Assembly and tirelessly giving interviews to the media.
"The republic would like to convey its admiration and recognition," Sarkozy told Betancourt, adding that she was welcome to stay in France "where you are fine, safe and where we love you."
After presenting a large bouquet of roses to Betancourt, the president also invoked "all those in the world who are prisoners" and said France will work for their release as it did for Betancourt.
Between 350 and 700 people are believed to be held by the FARC in the Colombian jungle including 24 high-profile hostages who may be freed as a result of a prisoner swap with Bogota.
Wearing an elegant purple dress, her long hair coiffed in a bun, Betancourt remarked: "Dressed up like a woman, I feel like I am slowly becoming myself again."
The former hostage returned from a religious pilgrimage at the weekend to Lourdes in southwest France, a site of major importance to Catholics, and she is due to meet with Pope Benedict XVI.
On Sunday, she won a pledge from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to step up international efforts to resolve Colombia's hostage crisis.
[AFP / Expatica]