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Government denies paying for hostage release

Article published on the 2008-07-05 Latest update 2008-07-06 13:22 TU

A still from the film shows Betancourt before boarding the helicopter(Photo: Reuters)

A still from the film shows Betancourt before boarding the helicopter
(Photo: Reuters)

The Colombian government has denied charges that it paid millions of dollars to gain the release of 15 hostages, including Franco-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt, claiming that "not a single centime has been paid". The military has released video footage of the rescue, which shows the hostages erupting in joy when they learn that they are free.

Swiss public radio, quoting a "source close to the events", has claimed that 20 million dollars (12.7 million euros) was paid to "buy" the hostages and that the liberation was a set-up.

Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos reacted indignantly to the charge.

"This is absolutely false," he told reporters.

Armed Forces Chief General Freddy Padilla declared that "not a single centime" had been paid, while officials recalled that they had offered a over twice as much for the hostages to be handed over.

"A few months ago they created a hundred-million-dollar fund precisely for that purpose," British Latin America analyst Colin Harding told RFI. "So I don’t think that is much of an issue, really. They would have done if they’d needed to but in fact in this instance they say they didn’t."

The US Ambassador to Bogota, William Brownfield, said that his government had paid "not a dollar, not a peso, not a euro" for the freeing of the three US citizens in the group.

Santos also denied any foreign involvement in the operation. But Gerardo Aguilar, known as César, a Farc guerrilla captured in the operation, has said that foreigners were present. Speaking through his lawyer, he said that led him to believe that it was a "humanitarian mission".

The Colombian military Friday showed a video of the hostages with their hands tied boarding the rescue helicopter, then erupting in joy when told that they have been freed.

In Paris Betancourt declared that she doesn't believe that the operation was a set-up.

She is to undergo medical tests in a military hospital on Saturday. Although she told reporters that she is "in great shape", she is believed to have contracted several diseases, including possibly hepatitis, and has accused her captors of torturing her.