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Ransom claim in Ingrid Betancourt release

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jul/04/betancourt.france Ransom claim in Ingrid Betancourt release * Haroon Siddique and agencies * guardian.co.uk, *
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 6, 2008
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      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jul/04/betancourt.france

      Ransom claim in Ingrid Betancourt release

      * Haroon Siddique and agencies
      * guardian.co.uk,
      * Friday July 4, 2008

      Ingrid Betancourt arrived in France today after being held captive for six years in the Colombian jungle, amid claims that a ransom was paid to free her.

      The Colombian government said that she was freed in an audacious operation after the military tricked Farc into handing the French-Colombian politician over without a shot being fired.

      But quoting "reliable sources", Swiss Radio reported that a ransom was paid of around $20m (£10m).

      It said that the US, which had three citizens among those freed, was behind the deal and that "the whole operation afterwards was a set-up".

      The station reported that the wife of one of the hostages' guards was the go-between, having been arrested by the Colombian army.

      If proved true, the allegations would be hugely embarrassing for the Colombian government which was showered with praise for the efficiency of the operation. Many commentators had predicted that it would even spell the end of Farc as a credible force.

      President Nicolas Sarkozy met Betancourt at the Villacoublay military air base south of Paris.

      The hero's welcome for the 46-year-old, who has held by the Farc, is being shown live on French television.

      The government is to throw a party in the presidential Élysée Palace in her honour later this evening.

      Addressing journalists after landing she said: "I am amazed that I am standing here alive. I have cried a lot. Today they are tears of joy. Before, they were tears of pain."

      Betancourt was kidnapped by Farc rebels during her election campaign in 2002. She was freed on Wednesday with 14 others. The rebels were tricked into handing them over in a Colombian covert military operation.

      Next week, Betancourt is expected to be received by the Pope. She is a devout Catholic and made wooden rosary beads to pray with in the jungle.

      At a press conference in Bogata upon her release, Betancourt urged Farc to release the rest of its prisoners - it has about 700 captives, including 40 high-profile hostages - and embark on a peace process. She has vowed to work for the freedom of all hostages.

      "I hope that the Farc understands that this is the time to release all its hostages and use this release, this act, not only to improve its now tarnished image, but especially for us here in Colombia, to try to make this first step towards a negotiated peace.''
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