Betancourt tells of fears

2008-12-01 11:52

Bogota - The world's most celebrated ex-hostage, home for the first time since her July rescue and embarking on a South American humanitarian mission, said on Sunday that the brevity of her surprise visit to Colombia owes to deep fears.

Ingrid Betancourt told The Associated Press that she is constantly revisiting in her mind her fateful February 2002 decision to rush recklessly into rebel-controlled territory unprotected - a move that led to her abduction and six years of captivity in Colombia's jungle.

Now, she doesn't appear in public without a detailed security plan. Death threats - which she wouldn't describe - and safety concerns prevented her from joining in marches held against kidnapping Friday across Colombia.

Instead, Betancourt arrived on Saturday unannounced, met with President Alvaro Uribe and hostage relatives and briefed reporters on her plans to seek South American leaders' help this week in trying to secure freedom for Colombians still held captive by leftist rebels.

"For the children, it hurts immensely to imagine the possibility that the dream of happiness we are living might end - because it's fragile," Betancourt, 47, told the AP.

Both her children, who call Paris home, reached adulthood during her captivity.

Meticulous about security

My daughter told me, 'Mami, I want you to be there when I get married. I want you to hold my baby when I have one,"' she said. The children lived abroad before: She sent them into exile with her first husband in the late 1990s when, as a crusading anti-corruption senator, she received death threats.

Betancourt, who travels with a French bodyguard detail, is now meticulous about security.

"When they tell me that I'm completely secure I say, 'OK, explain to me what is completely secure, what exactly is the plan, tell me exactly how many people there will be.' If there is a march, are they going to search the buildings where I'm going to march? Or I won't go," she said.

Betancourt arrived in Quito Sunday night, where she planned to meet on Monday with President Rafael Correa in the first stop on her tour of the region.

She also plans to meet this week with the presidents of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru and, hopefully, with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela - though she said she is "neither a mediator nor a facilitator" and has no particular proposal.

"Contacts are frozen and a way has to be found to reach the FARC," she said of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, her former captors.

28 high-value hostages

Betancourt told reporters on Saturday that she was thrilled by US President-elect Barack Obama's victory and has met with members of his transition team.

"I'm not sure that Obama knows much about Latin America," said the former presidential candidate, chuckling. "But I have the hope that President Obama meets in Latin America interlocutors who open his heart."

She said it was important that Washington maintain its close friendship with Colombia - Obama has expressed concerns about continued killings of union activists - because that sends an important deterrent message to the FARC.

She did not say if she believes US military aid should continue at current levels. It has been key in putting the FARC on the defensive and contributed to her bloodless July 2 rescue, along with three US military contractors, when military intelligence agents duped their captors into airlifting them from the jungle in helicopters.

The FARC now holds 28 high-value hostages, including politicians, soldiers and police.

- AP

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