Betancourt's family set for reunion in Colombia

3rd July 2008, Comments 0 comments

The children of freed hostage Ingrid Betancourt flew to Colombia Thursday to be reunited with their mother who has been held in captivity for more than six years.

3 July 2008

PARIS - The children of freed French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt flew to Colombia Thursday with Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for an emotional reunion following the "indescribable joy" of her release.

Melanie and Lorenzo, who have grown into adulthood without their mother during her more than six years of captivity, and ex-husband Fabrice Delloye were to be reunited with Betancourt as France celebrated the end of her ordeal.

The plane also carrying President Nicolas Sarkozy's personal physician left a Paris military airport shortly after 2:00 am (0000 GMT) and was due to touch down in Bogota around 1300 GMT.

"This is the moment that we've been waiting for so long," said Melanie, standing next to Sarkozy at the Elysee presidential palace late Wednesday as a Colombian military helicopter carried her mother to freedom.

"Words fail us", she said, her voice trembling with emotion.

"It is an immense joy, an indescribable joy, I still cannot believe it," said Lorenzo. "It's the best moment of my life."

Melanie was 16 and Lorenzo 13 when Betancourt was abducted by rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on February 23, 2002 while campaigning for the Colombian presidency.

The rebels' most high-profile hostage, Betancourt was rescued along with three Americans and 11 Colombian soldiers in a dramatic and bloodless operation.

Colombian infiltrators had tricked the rebels into putting the hostages aboard a helicopter that they believed was to take them to FARC leader Alfonso Cano.

Betancourt's plight has become a cause celebre in France, where Sarkozy had vested much of his prestige in trying to win her release while grassroots groups had campaigned tirelessly.

Large posters of Betancourt hung at the entrances of dozens of cities and towns which had named her an honorary citizen, including Paris where a large celebration was planned for later in the day.

"Today there is immense joy. All of France is happy about the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt," said Sarkozy, who in April had sent a chartered medical plane to Colombia amid reports of Betancourt's failing health.

Sarkozy thanked Colombian President Alvaro Uribe for the "successful military operation" that freed Betancourt and called on FARC rebels to end their "absurd and medieval" struggle.

It remained unclear whether France played a role in the operation.

Betancourt's release was frontpage news in France, with television networks repeatedly broadcasting footage of the frail but smiling 46-year-old politician addressing supporters after her release.

Switching to French from Spanish, Betancourt thanked Sarkozy "who fought so hard for me, with my family, my children, my mother and my sister" and also expressed gratitude to former president Jacques Chirac and former prime minister Dominique de Villepin.

"Thank you, France," she said. "I am Colombian but I am French."

"My heart belongs to both. I carry you in my heart, I thank you for all of your prayers, I thank you for the time that you devoted, I thank you for the struggles that you waged in my defence, for the protection and the love that you gave to my children," she said.

"I will soon be with you. I dream of being in France."

A source on board the plane carrying Betancourt's family said the former hostage was expected to return with them to France once the medical team can certify that she is fit enough to travel.

[AFP / Expatica]

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