Betancourt urges hostages' freedom

2010-07-03 14:31

Bogota - Former Franco-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt has urged the leftist FARC guerrillas on Friday to free their prisoners as she celebrated the second anniversary of her own release.

"I have faith and hope that those who are kidnapped will be released soon and I call on the FARC to change course and become a peace alternative," Betancourt said on Friday at a ceremony celebrating the Colombian military's successful "Operation Jaque" of July 2 2008.

The US-backed operation freed 15 hostages of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) - Betancourt, three US military contractors and 11 Colombian soldiers and policemen.

It was Betancourt's first visit to her native country since a stopover of only a few hours in November 2008.

The former Colombian presidential candidate was held for more than six years by the FARC, and ultimately became a global symbol of the guerrillas’ hostages.

She said she still suffered pain as a result of her captivity.

"I always have the impression that I am fine, calm and happy, and suddenly I mention something, and the sadness, tears and angst come back," the former hostage told AFP. "I am not yet in control of my emotions to the degree I would like."

Betancourt, who was abducted in the midst of her presidential campaign in February 2002, earlier took part in an event paying tribute to military officers who helped free her through the complex intelligence operation.

The event consisted in a wreath laying ceremony to those who remain in captivity at the Jose Maria Cordova Military School (west of Bogota), with the heads of military forces and the Police and French diplomats.

Since her liberation, Betancourt has been at the centre of public attention and was even recommended for the Nobel Peace Prize. But she said in was important for her to remain humble.

"People can take you very high," she noted in the interview. "But a person remains what he or she is. It is important to maintain a distance between the highs and the lows and have the tranquillity of knowing what one really is."

FARC rebels, active on nearly half of Colombian territory, still hold at least 19 soldiers and police officers who they hope to swap for some 500 guerrillas in Colombian jails.

The group has been at war with Colombian government since 1964.