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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 May 2007, 01:59 GMT 02:59 UK
President vows to free Betancourt
Ingrid Betancourt
Ingrid Betancourt has apparently tried to escape several times
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has ordered the army to step up efforts to rescue former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt from rebel captors.

Ms Betancourt, a dual Colombian-French national, was seized by the rebel Farc guerrilla group in February 2002.

Mr Uribe pledged to release her and three Americans after a fellow hostage fled and detailed the harsh conditions they were kept in.

But Ms Betancourt's mother and husband both strongly oppose such action.

"It means death for Ingrid," said her mother, Yolanda Pulecio.

"We're sure that this order immediately means death for Ingrid and for everyone who's being held with her."

President Uribe spoke by telephone with France's new President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday, after he had heard details of the conditions in which Ms Betancourt is being held from escaped hostage Jhon Frank Pinchao.

"Generals, we are going to rescue Ingrid Betancourt!" the president announced.

"I urge you, let's rescue her! There'll be no more games with the Farc."

However, Mr Sarkozy reportedly favoured a negotiated solution.

'Treated like an animal'

Jhon Frank Pinchao said he spent 17 days lost in the jungle before he was found by an army patrol on Wednesday.

The policeman had been held hostage for nearly nine years.

He said he was held in a camp with three US intelligence agents and Ms Betancourt.

She had attempted to escape several times and had been "severely punished", Mr Pinchao said.

He met relatives of some of Farc's hostages from a hospital bed, where he was recovering from his ordeal.

Ms Betancourt's husband, Juan Carlos Lecompte, was among them, and told the Associated Press that Mr Pinchao said she was chained by the neck every night to prevent her from escaping.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and escaped hostage Jhon Frank Pinchao
Alvaro Uribe met Jhon Frank Pinchao to hear his story

"They're treating her like an animal," Mr Lecompte said.

"The guerrillas lie when they say they're treating women and prisoners humanely."

Mr Uribe, at a military ceremony, said Mr Pinchao's testimony "demonstrates that the Farc's concentration camps are more cruel than the concentration camps of the Nazis".

'Media show'

Relatives of the hostages have urged the army not to launch a rescue operation, fearing it could end in a bloodbath.

Some of Ms Betancourt's family met new French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday, after which the French government repeated that it was opposed to military action.

"That could put the lives of the hostages in danger," said a French foreign ministry spokesman.

Ingrid Betancourt's daughter, Melanie, said President Uribe's statement was a mere "media show".

"If you want to free someone by force, will you announce to the whole world?" she said.

"The first thing they will do is to execute their hostages."

Colombia's president orders troops to rescue hostages

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