Ingrid Betancourt: Symbol of Colombia's Lost Hostages
By VOA News
03 July 2008

Released hostage Ingrid Betancourt arrives at air base in Bogota, 2 Jul 2008French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt became the international face of Colombia's hostage crisis when she was kidnapped while campaigning for the Colombian presidency. She was the highest-profile captive held by the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The FARC, Latin America's oldest insurgency, captured Betancourt and her vice presidential running mate, Clara Rojas, in southern Colombia in February 2002. Rojas, who had a child while in captivity, was released early this year in a deal that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arranged.

Concerns about Betancourt's health grew last year when authorities released a rebel video that showed her appearing gaunt and depressed. She was reported to be suffering from hepatitis B and a tropical skin disease caused by insect bites. The rebels often chained her to keep her from trying to escape.

Betancourt's mother, Yolanda Pulecio, met with Pope Benedict at the Vatican and with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in an effort to secure her daughter's release. Pulecio had said she hoped Colombian President Alvaro Uribe would agree to negotiate with the rebels and end military operations that she said further endangered the hostages.

File photo of Ingrid Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate, being held hostage by leftist rebelsFrance made Betancourt's release a priority and sent a mission to Colombia to see her, but the FARC denied access to her. The 46-year-old Betancourt was among some 40 high-profile hostages the rebels were holding in an effort to negotiate a prisoner exchange with Colombia's government.

The rebels said they would not free Betancourt or any other captives until a deal was struck to free the guerrillas in prison.

The FARC is believed to be holding at least 700 people hostage in the Colombian jungle.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.
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