Page last updated at 20:46 GMT, Thursday, 3 July 2008 21:46 UK

Betancourt reunited with family


The moment Ingrid Betancourt was reunited with her children

Ingrid Betancourt has been reunited with her children - a day after being freed from more than six years of captivity in the Colombian jungle.

The French-Colombian politician was among 15 hostages rescued without a shot being fired as their rebel captors were tricked into handing them over.

Her children travelled to Bogota from France for the emotional reunion.

Ms Betancourt said she would now work tirelessly for the freedom of all hostages being held by Farc rebels.

"It is most important that every Colombian feels that we will free them - that our brothers in the jungle will return," she said.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which has been waging a war of independence for the past four decades, still holds more than 40 high-profile hostages, among up to 700 other captives.

'Orgy of kisses'

A day after her release, Ms Betancourt raced up the steps of the aircraft to embrace her daughter, Melanie, and her son, Lorenzo Delloye-Betancourt, who had flown in from France.

Ingrid Betancourt after her release 2 July 2008
Born on 25 December 1961
Grows up in Paris
1989: Returns to Colombia
1994: Elected to lower house
1998: Becomes a senator
2002: Kidnapped by Farc rebels

She told reporters she was "so proud" of her children, who were 16 and 13 when she was seized.

"They fought a battle, they dug deep into their characters, from the depths of their souls and fought a very beautiful battle," she said.

She described the reunion as "an orgy of kisses".

"I don't know what I said to them. I think I cried... I told them that they would have to put up with me because I was going to stick to them like bubblegum and I was going to eat them up with kisses."

Her daughter said the reunion was "the toughest and most beautiful moment that my brother and I have lived through".

Presidential hopes

Earlier, Ms Betancourt had hailed Wednesday's mission to free her and 14 fellow hostages as a "perfect operation".

This is the beginning of the end of Farc. As a Colombian citizen, I feel proud of my government and of the armed forces
Pedro, Bogota, Colombia

Colombian soldiers, posing as members of a non-government organisation, had flown the hostages to freedom in a helicopter.

The local commander in charge of the hostages, a man known as Cesar, and another rebel were captured in the operation and will face justice, the authorities say.

Also released were three Americans and 11 members of the Colombian security forces.

The freed Americans - military contractors Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell - were flown to Texas late on Wednesday, and the US military later said they all were "in a very good physical health".

The military said the three men - who had been held by Farc since February 2003 - would now undergo medical tests and would be reunited with their families at "a private location".

Feb, 2002: Betancourt kidnapped by Farc rebels
Feb, 2003: US defence contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves seized by after their plane goes down in southern Colombia
Jan, 2008: Betancourt aide Clara Rojas and ex-congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez freed by Farc
March, 2008: Colombian forces raid rebel camp in Ecuador and kill Farc commander Raul Reyes
March, 2008: Farc leader Manuel Marulanda dies of reported heart attack
July, 2008: Colombian military frees Ms Betancourt, the three US contractors and 11 other hostages

US President George W Bush said his Colombian counterpart, President Alvaro Uribe had personally called him about the release.

"I told him what a joyous occasion it must be to know that the plan had worked, that people who were unjustly held were now free to be with their families," he said.

"I appreciate his courage and his strong leadership and the successful operations they waged."

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the US had been working with the Colombian authorities on the rescue plan for a long time, but was not able to go into specifics.

Ms Betancourt also thanked the Colombian president, whom she had been running against as a presidential candidate when she was kidnapped in a Farc-controlled area of southern Colombia in 2002.

"I continue to aspire to serve Colombia as president," she added.

On Friday, Ms Betancourt is due to travel to France to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had made ensuring her rescue a foreign policy priority.

The Colombian president has urged Farc to release its remaining hostages and seek peace.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott, in Medellin, says the successful operation by Colombian security forces is a political and military coup for the country's government and a major blow to the Farc.

Reuters Colombia tricks rebels in bloodless hostage rescue - 7 hrs ago
Denver Post "Miracle" rescue frees Colombia hostages - 7 hrs ago Betancourt to Meet Sarkozy, Says France Kept Her Alive - 7 hrs ago
CNN Hostages freed; Uribe calls for peace - 7 hrs ago
Sky News Colombian Hostage Relives Rescue - 7 hrs ago

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