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The Telegraph/UK

Ingrid Betancourt and Three American Hostages Freed by Colombian Military

Jeremy McDermott in Bogota

Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian politician held hostage by Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) guerrillas, has been freed in a dramatic rescue operation.0702 13

Colombian officials said they had rescued Ms Betancourt, as well as three American military contractors and 11 Colombian police and soldiers hostages, from the Leftist rebels, who had held her prisoner in secret jungle camps since 2002.

Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian defence minister, says nobody was hurt in the operation in eastern Colombia, which saw Colombian army commandos capture rebels who were manning a security ring around the hostages.

They forced the rebels to persuade their comrades to turn over the captives, without any loss of life.

Mr Santos said all the former hostages were in reasonably good health.

There had been grave fears for Ms Betancourt's health since she was kidnapped by Farc, which has been fighting to overthrow the Colombian government for more than 40 years.

Ms Betancourt, who grew up in Paris, was elected to Colombia's lower house and became a senator in 1998. Her capture was a coup for the rebels and she became their most valuable hostage and bargaining tool.

She is believed to have been suffering from serious liver problems and, a video released recently as proof she was still alive, appeared particularly frail.

France sent a mission to Colombia in April in an attempt to provide her with medical treatment. But the mission was unsuccessful.

Farc has been negotiating with the Colombian government, calling for prisoner exchanges for hundreds of jailed rebels.

The French government had made securing Ms Betancourt's freedom a priority and President Nicolas Sarkozy was expected to address the French people over her release.

© 2008 The Telegraph

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