Betancourt Calls for Negotiated Release of All FARC HostagesBy Brian Wagner
MiamiA day after being freed from Colombian rebels, Ingrid Betancourt is calling for new efforts to win the release of other hostages in rebel hands. VOA's Brian Wagner reports Betancourt was one of 15 people freed by Colombian forces on Wednesday.

Ingrid Betancourt speaks at news conference, 3 Jul 2008Former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt is celebrating with her family, after being freed from more than six years in captivity.

But she stressed dozens of other people remain in jungle camps of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Betancourt said the leftist rebels are at a weak point, and Colombia's government should work to negotiate an end to the more than 44-year-old rebel conflict.

Betancourt said mediators should ask rebel leaders to use their influence to encourage militants to end terrorist activities and seek a path of reconciliation and peace.

Betancourt, who holds Colombian and French citizenships, thanked France's government for recent efforts to pressure rebels to free hostages. She said Colombia, France and other nations should form a league of nations to work for the release of hostages in conflicts around the world.

Late Wednesday, President Alvaro Uribe said the government hopes all hostages will be freed soon from rebel hands. He also praised the work of Colombia's armed forces and intelligence agents for securing the release of Betancourt and 14 others.

Uribe said the operation was admirable in many ways, and it was a triumph for the armed forces, and respectful of human rights.

Hostages freed from FARC rebels in Colombia during press conference, 02 Jul 2008The operation also recovered 11 Colombian police and soldiers, and three American defense contractors, who were seized in 2003 when their plane crashed during a drug surveillance flight. The three men, Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell, were flown to a military base in Texas late Wednesday to be reunited with family members.

President Bush praised the work of Colombia's government to secure the safe release of the hostages.
"I congratulated the president. I asked him to congratulate his military and those who had planned it. And 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.

The U.S. ambassador to Colombia, William Brownfield, met the three Americans shortly after their rescue. He said two of them are suffering from a skin disease known as leishmaniasis, which they contracted during captivity.

voa news
03 July 2008