Ex-hostage Betancourt tells Colombia to 'embrace' peace

5th May 2016, Comments 0 comments

Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician who was held hostage by Colombia's FARC rebels for more than six years, said Thursday the conflict-torn country must embrace peace, reconciliation and forgiveness.

Betancourt is one of the most high-profile victims of a half-century conflict that has claimed 260,000 lives and now finally appears to be nearing an end at peace talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

She was kidnapped by the FARC in 2002 while campaigning for president in what was supposed to be a demilitarized zone, and was held in the jungle until she was rescued in an army operation in 2008.

She left for Europe after she was freed and has rarely returned to Colombia, but was back for a conference on reconciliation.

"I have just one plea for Colombia today: to dare to believe in itself and embrace with all the strength of its soul the grandiose prospect of peace," she said in an emotional speech during which she paused several times to choke back tears.

"There is nothing stronger than forgiveness to stop the dehumanization" of war, she said.

Betancourt, a former member of Colombia's Congress, told several stories from her time in captivity, including one about a guerrilla fighter who once asked her forgiveness for something he had said.

That small act of human connection helped her get through the "bad times," said Betancourt, 54.

Turning to the peace talks launched in 2012, she said there was no reason Colombians could not have justice for the atrocities perpetrated in the conflict, which rights groups say have been committed on all sides.

"We as a society aspire to (a peace deal in which) there is no impunity. They, the FARC, need security before the justice system. Both ambitions are fair and they are not incompatible," she said.

"The possibility of a transitional justice system is a creative and mature proposal to solve this equation."

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez announced a landmark deal last September on post-conflict justice that provided for special courts and reduced sentences for those who admit their crimes.

They said the deal would pave the way to end the conflict within six months, but the date has passed and a final peace accord remains elusive.

© 2016 AFP

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