France Celebrates Release of Hostage

By John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 2, 2008; 8:04 PM

PARIS, July 2 -- The rescue of French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt from more than six years of captivity by rebels in Colombia triggered an outpouring of relief and emotion in France, capped by a live late-night television broadcast by President Nicolas Sarkozy announcing the news while flanked by members of Betancourt's family.

"Today seals the end of an ordeal that lasted for more than six years," Sarkozy said in an 11:30 p.m. television address from the Elysée Palace as Betancourt's son, daughter and sister smiled, hugged each other and barely supressed their tears. Sarkozy said that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and members of Betancourt's family would leave for Colombia within hours on a French government plane to reunite the family.

"Ingrid is in good health, on a Colombian military base," Sarkozy said. "I want President Uribe to receive the gratitude of the entire people of France."

Betancourt's sister, Astrid Betancourt, said that when Colombia's defense minister told her of the release by telephone, "I had a hard time thinking that it was true."

Ingrid's daughter, Melanie Delloye-Betancourt, called it "the moment we've been waiting for for so long."

"Words can't express what our family feels tonight. We're looking forward to the moment when we will hug her." Her voice cracking, she thanked Sarkozy in particular, saying that since he took office last summer, "things started to change, and today mummy is here. . . . It is as if we were waking up from a nightmare."

Sarkozy, who took an intense personal interest in Betancourt's release, urged her kidnappers from the FARC rebel group to "stop your absurd fight," adding that France was "ready to welcome the ones who will give up the armed struggle."

With her dual Colombian and French citizenship, Betancourt became a huge celebrity in France. Her father was a Colombian diplomat, and she moved to the country after he was posted here. She grew up in Paris, attending the city's prestigious Institute of Political Sciences, also known as Sciences Po. She married a French diplomat, which allowed her to become a French citizen. That marriage ended in divorce.

Her former husband and their son and daughter live in Paris, and they made Betancourt's release a cause celebre.

Supporters organized rallies and concerts across the country to push for her release. A huge banner with her picture was draped over the front of city hall in Paris.

Her case was followed closely by the French government and the French media as well, and Sarkozy tried without success to broker a deal for her freedom.

"When I think of God, and I think of His blessing of all of us, I think of France," Betancourt wrote in a long October 2007 letter to her mother that was released last December. "Since the initiation of this kidnapping, France has had a voice of wisdom and love. It has never given up; it has never accepted the passing of time as the only solution, never faltered in defense of our right to be defended. When the night was at its darkest, France was the beacon. When the request for our freedom was disapproved, France did not keep silent."

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