Betancourt stages Paris concert to seek hostage release

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Ingrid Betancourt stages a concert on Sunday as part of a day of rallies in Europe and Latin America seeking the release of Colombian hostage captives.

21 July 2008

PARIS - Colombian ex-hostage Ingrid Betancourt staged a concert in Paris Sunday as part of a day of rallies in Europe and Latin America seeking the release of captives still held by rebels in the Colombian jungle.

"No more hostages!" Betancourt chanted as she addressed a crowd of several thousand people who came to watch around 30 artists perform in a square across the river Seine from the Eiffel Tower.

Colombian star Juanes, Spain's Miguel Bose, and French artists Renan Luce and Michel Delpech were among the singers playing at the concert.

Colombia's rebels must lay down their arms and free the hundreds of hostages they still hold, Betancourt told the concert-goers, many of whom waved Colombian flags and chanted "Freedom, freedom."

Madrid and other European cities saw smaller support rallies for the hostages, but the main events were to be held later Sunday in Latin America, with the highlight expected to be a concert in Colombia by pop star Shakira.

Betancourt, who also holds French citizenship, was rescued 2 July by Colombian armed forces who said they had tricked her captors into handing her over along with three Americans and 11 other Colombian hostages.

The 46-year-old politician was abducted in 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.

The FARC continues to detain an estimated 700 hostages. Up to 2,000 more are believed to be held by the National Liberation Army, another leftist rebel group.

Around five million people were expected to take part in demonstrations Sunday in some 1,000 towns and cities across Colombia.

The marches coincided with independence day celebrations in the southern town of Leticia, which are to be attended by President Alvaro Uribe and his guests, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Alan Garcia of Peru.

Shakira, Colombia's world-famous pop icon, was due to sing Colombia's national anthem at the start of that commemoration before launching into a concert in support of the hostage liberation demonstration.

Shakira is one of nine Latin music stars who vowed to keep fighting for the release of hostages in a letter signed earlier this month.

Sunday's concerts went ahead as the controversy surrounding just how Betancourt and her companions came to be released continued.

According to a report Sunday in Spain's Vanguardia newspaper, the French, Israeli and US secret services were involved in the operation.

"Mossad and the US and French intelligence services worked for more than a year with the Colombian authorities to develop the plan," Vanguardia said, citing an Israeli secret service source.

The three countries all had their reasons for taking part in the operation, said the paper.

France because of Betancourt's dual nationality; the US because of the three American hostages in the group; and Israel in order to maintain good bilateral relations with Colombia and the United States.

Earlier in July, a statement from FARC itself blamed the rescue of the hostages on the treachery of key members of the unit holding them.

[AFP / Expatica]

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