French/Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, who was rescued on Wednesday from Colombian FARC rebels after a six-year hostage ordeal has made an emotional return to Paris.
She was warmly greeted at a military airport outside the city by President Nicholas Sarkozy, who played a lead role in earlier failed efforts to negotiate her release. Sarkozy organised a plane to take her children, who live in France, to meet her in Bogota and return with her.
He told reporters her freedom provided hope for all those in the world suffering and deprived of their freedom. He added that despite what she had endured at the hands of her “torturers” she was “free, shining” and with her life ahead of her and family around her.
Betancourt spoke emotionally of the debt she felt to those who worked for her freedom. “I owe you everything, I owe everything to France. When I take President Sarkozy by the hands, when I kiss him, I look at this extraordinary man who has fought such a battle for me and I see behind him all of France. I cried a lot during this time of pain and indignation. Today I cry for joy,” she said.
Betancourt and her friends and family were than taken to the presidential palace for a reception. She spent much of her youth in France and went to university there so she has a strong connection to the country.
Amid the celebrations a political controversy has erupted over Sarkozy’s involvement in efforts to win her release. His opponents have accused him of trying to gain political capital from her rescue by Colombian troops, even though France had no involvement in it.