Ingrid Betancourt reunited with her two children (Third Lead)

July 3rd, 2008 - 10:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Bogota, July 3 (DPA) With tender strokes and tears, the liberated Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt was reunited Thursday with her two children, Melanie and Lorenzo, their first contact in more than eight years. Her children - both adults who live in France with their father and who have lobbied intensively around the world for their mother’s release - arrived at the Catam military base near Bogota Thursday morning, aboard an Airbus A319 belonging to the French presidency.

Betancourt greeted her children on the plane stairs, in a long-awaited scene full of hugs, kissing and tears.

CNN showed video of Betancourt, a Colombian presidential candidate when she was kidnapped in February 2002, stroking the faces of Melanie and Lorenzo Delloye, who have grown taller than she in the eight-year separation.

As she did when she emerged from the jungle Wednesday wearing fatigues, Betancourt wore a flower woven into her braid in the reunion scenes captured on board an airplane.

Betancourt, 46, holds dual French-Colombian citizenship and was the most high-profile hostage held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). She was freed in an elaborate ruse carried out by the Colombian military, along with 14 others, including three Americans.

Melanie and Lorenzo Delloye were accompanied by their father, Betancourt’s first husband Fabrice Delloye, and by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

According to media reports, Betancourt was planning to travel to France later Thursday, to personally thank French President Nicolas Sarkozy for his efforts to seek her release.

On Wednesday, Colombian troops posing as fellow rebels tricked FARC into transferring 15 hostages - Betancourt, three US contractors and 11 military and police officers - into their custody. Not a shot was fired, and two rebels were arrested.

The European Union (EU)’s top officials reacted with delight at the Colombian military operation which Wednesday ended in the release of 15 hostages, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt.

“I have just learned with relief and joy of the release of the hostages taken by (Colombian guerrilla movement) FARC … I congratulate all those who worked for their release,” European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement in the early hours of Thursday.

“At the same time our hearts go out to those who remain in captivity … We call on their captors to release all their hostages immediately and unconditionally,” EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “We share the joy and relief of the family and friends of Ingrid Betancourt, who has been freed after being held hostage for more than six years.”

He also welcomed the freeing of 14 other hostages, three of them US citizens.

Steinmeier congratulated the Colombian government and expressed the hope that hundreds of other FARC hostages would soon be freed.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said he was “extraordinarily excited” about the liberation of French-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages by the Colombian army Wednesday.

The minister also referred to the video footage released several months ago showing a sick Betancourt in difficult circumstances.

Verhagen also called upon the guerrilla movement to release all remaining hostages.

Meanwhile, the three US nationals who were among the 15 hostages freed from leftist rebels in Colombia arrived early Thursday in the US state of Texas.

A US military plane brought the three, who were employees of the defence company Northrop Grumman in Colombia, back to the US.

US Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who Wednesday was in Colombia on an election trip to Latin America, welcomed the dramatic rescue of 14 hostages held for years by leftist rebels there.

“Three Americans are now free and Ingrid Betancourt is now in good condition. I’m pleased with the success of this very high-risk operation,” McCain said in a statement, after speaking with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe by telephone.

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