Article published on the 2008-07-02 Latest update 2008-07-03 17:10 TU
The Colombian military rescued Franco-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and 14 others late Wednesday from the Farc guerillas who had held her captive for six years in the Colombian jungle. A military team posing as rebels whisked the group away via helicopter, and brought the group to Bogota.
"To all of you Colombians, for all of you French people who have been with us, who accompanied us in the world, who helped us to remain alive, who helped the world to know what was going on: thank you," Betancourt said after disembarking from the plane in Bogota.
She spoke on the tarmac, saying that she did not know that the soldiers who rescued her, three Americans and eleven Colombian soldiers were Colombian soldiers in disguise. Some were wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the portrait of revolutionary legend Ernesto "Che" Guevara.
The captives were made to board the helicopter with their wrists bound and told they were going to another rebel hideout.
Only in the air were the hostages told, "we are the national army and you all are free", said Betancourt, adding that the helicopter almost fell from the sky because the whole group started jumping and hugging.
The operation "will no doubt go down in history for its audacity", said Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos.
Following confirmation of Betancourt's release French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke of his gratitude to South American heads of state, particularly Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
The family of Ingrid Betancourt with President Sarkozy speaking after the news of Betancourt's freedom
Betancourt's children, Melanie and Lorenzo, spoke of their joy, gave thanks to those who had supported them and recalled that other hostages remained in the hands of the Farc.French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, and some members of Betancourt's family flew to Colombia late Wednesday. The Elysee palace said Betancourt would likely return to France on the plane.
The leader of France's centrist party Modem, François Bayrou, paid tribute to Betancourt's children and congratulated the Colombian authorities on "taking a risk and having succeeded". The leader of France's Socialist Party, François Hollande, thanked those who had contributed to the freeing of the Franco-Colombian.
The three American hostages that were released were Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell. They had been captured in 2003.