Betancourt, 14 others freed by Colombian forces

July 3rd, 2008 - 3:22 am ICT by IANS  

Bogota, July 3 (DPA) Former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three US contractors and 11 other hostages held by leftist Colombian rebels were rescued Wednesday by Colombian military forces, Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos said. Betancourt, 46, had been kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on Feb 23, 2002. She holds dual French-Colombian citizenship and was the most high-profile hostage held by FARC.

According to Colombian officials, Betancourt is in relatively good health condition, despite rumours of her imminent death that circulated in recent months.

The three US contractors Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves were kidnapped by FARC in February 2003, when the plane they were travelling in in southern Colombia crashed. They were under contract with the US Department of Defence and were active in anti- drug tasks in Colombia.

FARC had planned to exchange Betancourt, the three US citizens and scores of military and police officers and politicians for FARC rebels held in prison.

Operation Jaque, which took place in the south-eastern Colombian province of Guaviare, is a very strong blow on FARC, which lost three members of its seven-member leadership - including its founder and boss - in March.

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