Betancourt speaks of six-year hostage ordeal

4th July 2008, Comments 0 comments

Freed hostage Ingrid Betancourt says she was chained up for 24 hours a day for three years and there were moments or real crisis, hardship and abuse.

4 July 2008

PARIS - Freed Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt said she had stared into the "abyss" during her six-year hostage ordeal as she headed to Paris for a meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday.

Newly reunited with her son and daughter a day after her jungle rescue by the Colombian army, Betancourt, who has dual French-Colombian nationality, left Bogota late Thursday for France, where she was set for a hero's welcome.

Speaking to French radio before she boarded the plane, the 46-year-old former presidential candidate said she was chained up night and day for three years by her rebel captors, with only her Catholic faith as a solace.

"I was in chains all the time, 24 hours a day, for three years," she told Europe 1 radio. "I tried to wear those chains... with dignity, even if I felt that it was unbearable."

Freed on Wednesday along with three US hostages and 11 Colombians from the grip of Marxist FARC rebels in a bloodless operation by the Colombian army, Betancourt said she had suffered "moments of real crisis, hardship and abuse".

Asked whether she was tortured, she replied "Yes, yes". She said she saw her captors lapsing into "diabolical behaviour." "It was so monstrous that I think they themselves were disgusted."

"I think you need tremendous spirituality to stop yourself falling into the abyss," she said, adding that she decided in the helicopter flying her to safety not to reveal the most "sordid" details of her ordeal.

Betancourt Thursday had a powerfully emotional reunion at Bogota airport with her daughter Melanie, 22, and son Lorenzo, 19, who waged a relentless campaign for their mother's release, making her a cause celebre in France.

"I thank God for this moment. These are my little ones, my pride, my reason for living, my light, my moon, my stars, for them I wanted to leave the jungle, to see them again," she said.

Betancourt's children were young teenagers when she was seized in February 2002 while campaigning for Colombia's presidency. They were flown to Bogota together with her ex-husband Fabrice Delloye on a French presidential plane.

France celebrated the news of her release and she was expected to be treated to a rapturous welcome in Paris, the city where she grew up, studied and raised her children.

Sarkozy, who made Betancourt's release a top priority, was to welcome her with first lady Carla Bruni at 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) at a military airport west of Paris, before inviting the whole family to the Elysee presidential palace.

A fervent Catholic who called her release a "miracle of the Virgin Mary", Betancourt has also been invited to meet Pope Benedict XVI next week. "It is a meeting that one cannot pass up," she told AFP.

On the flight back to Paris, an exhausted Betancourt withdrew with her children to rest in a private suite at the front of the aircraft, according to an AFP correspondent on board.

Sarkozy's personal doctor, travelling on the flight, told AFP her state of health was "satisfactory" but that she would undergo in-depth medical exams once in Paris.

Video footage earlier this year showed Betancourt looking frail and gaunt and she was reported be suffering from a host of ailments including hepatitis.

Betancourt has urged Colombia and the international community to keep working to free the hundreds of other hostages still held by Colombia's FARC rebels, Latin America's most powerful left-wing insurgency.

The three US military contractors, Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell, released in the raid were also to be reunited with their families in Texas. They were said by doctors to be in good shape and high spirits.

And in Bogota, the seven Colombian soldiers and four police officers rescued - some after more than 10 years in captivity - received rapturous welcomes at ceremonies complete with mariachi bands.

The cunning rescue mission was a huge triumph in Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's long battle against the leftist rebel army.

In the humbled rebels' first reaction since the rescue, a news outlet close to FARC said they would be open to peace talks with the Uribe government.

"Definitely the future of Colombia cannot be civil war," read the statement on the pro-rebel Anncol news agency website, which urged FARC to "not waste a historic opportunity".

[AFP / Expatica]

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