Ingrid Betancourt begins new mission in Colombia
Five months after her rescue, the former hostage is back in Colombia to seek help in ending the FARC rebels’ guerrilla war.1 December 2008
BOGOTA – Former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt has begun a Latin American tour to seek the help of regional leaders in persuading Colombian Marxist FARC rebels to disarm and end their guerrilla war.
Betancourt, 46, arrived in Colombia Saturday for the first time since she was rescued from guerrillas after a six-year hostage ordeal.
"I am so very happy to be here," she said at Bogota's El Dorado International Airport where she and her mother, Yolanda Pulecio, were greeted by French ambassador Jean-Michel Marlaud.
On Saturday, she was whisked to a private meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at the CATAM military airport adjacent to El Dorado.
There, she said she had handed over to Ulribe a letter from his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, in which the French leader promises to work toward "a negotiated solution" of Colombia's protracted conflict with leftist rebels.
According to Betancourt, in the letter Sarkozy also reaffirms France's agreement to receive on its territory Wilson Bueno Largio, formerly of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia guerrilla force.
Largio, also known as Isaza, deserted from the FARC after allowing the escape last October of hostage Oscar Tulio Lizcano.
Betancourt said in a statement she would visit Quito, Lima, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Brazil, La Paz and Caracas. But for security reasons, she did not give the dates for her visits.
Her goal is to ask presidents to join a renewed drive to get the FARC, the region's largest and oldest active rebel force, to lay down their arms, said her statement.
Betancourt's visit to Colombia five months after her rescue will be brief, a diplomat told AFP. She has often expressed fears for her life here after receiving death threats from FARC rebels, her former captors. Betancourt, who holds dual Colombian and French citizenship, flew to France with her family three weeks after her release on 2 July.
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.
Betancourt headed a demonstration in Madrid alongside Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.
But while tens of thousands marched in some 200 Colombian cities on Friday, the turn-out was far lower than on 20 July, when some four million Colombians voiced outrage at the ongoing hostage situation. The 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.
Some activists have said that this is in part because of the ill-feelings many Colombians have toward Betancourt for leaving their country so soon after her rescue. She was rescued along with 14 other hostages in a daring operation by army commandos, who tricked their FARC rebel captors into thinking they were delivering their captives to the Red Cross.
"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, told Bogota's El Tiempo newspaper.
Betancourt has said that she does not wish to return to politics in Colombia.
[AFP / Expatica]