BOGOTA, July 4 – French-Colombian politician Ingrid capitalfmnewncourt left Bogota bound for France and a meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy one day after her jungle rescue from six years in rebel captivity.
capitalfmnewncourt, who was snatched with three US hostages and 11 Colombians from the grip of Marxist FARC rebels on Wednesday by Colombian soldiers, had earlier held a tearful reunion with her son and daughter at Bogota airport Thursday.
"I wanted to feel them, touch them, look at them…. They are so beautiful," she said of Melanie and Lorenzo, who were 16 and 13 when she was captured in February 2002 while campaigning for the country’s presidency.
"I thank God for this moment. These are my little ones, my pride, my reason for living, my light, my moon, my stars, for them I wanted to leave the jungle, to see them again," capitalfmnewncourt exclaimed, euphoric despite not sleeping a wink on her first night of freedom in six years.
Her children and her former husband Fabrice Delloye arrived earlier in the day on a special flight from France together with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, and she flew back to Paris with them late Thursday.
A day after her rescue, capitalfmnewncourt urged Colombia and the international community to keep working to free the hundreds of other hostages still held by Colombia’s FARC rebels, Latin America’s most fearsome leftwing insurgency.
The three US military contractors released in the raid were also to be reunited with their families in San Antonio, Texas, after being held by the FARC for more than five years.
US military doctors said that Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell, employees of US defense contractor Northrop Grumman captured while on a narcotics surveillance mission in Colombia, were all in good shape and had proved to be very resilient after physical and psychological checkups.
"They’re in great spirits and we’re continuing the medical evaluation process as we speak," Colonel Jackie Hayes told a press conference.
In Bogota, the seven Colombian soldiers and four police officers who were rescued — some after more than 10 years in captivity — received rapturous welcomes at ceremonies complete with mariachi bands and streets bedecked with banners.
Colombia was in a celebratory mood after the cunning rescue mission, which went off bloodlessly in a huge triumph for President Alvaro Uribe’s long battle against the leftist rebel army.
France too was celebrating the news, after capitalfmnewncourt became a household name in the country thanks to a relentless campaign for her release.
The 46-year-old politician is expected to be treated to a hero’s welcome Friday when she returns to Paris, the city where she grew up, studied and raised her two children with Delloye.
Sarkozy, who made capitalfmnewncourt’s release a top priority, was to welcome her personally.
The Catholic capitalfmnewncourt has also been invited to a face-to-face meeting with Pope Benedict XVI next week at the Vatican.
"I don’t have a date set yet but the Vatican has confirmed my meeting with the Pope," she told AFP. "It is a meeting that one cannot pass up."
capitalfmnewncourt admitted she had been taken by surprise by the army operation. She said the hostages did not know that rebels who had come to move them to a new hideout were Colombian soldiers in disguise.
It was only when they were in the air that the chief of the operation said "We are the national army and you are all free," capitalfmnewncourt said.
"And the helicopter almost fell because we started jumping. We screamed, we cried, we hugged. We couldn’t believe it."
Uribe praised the "magnificent work" of the rescue team and compared the operation "to the greatest epics in the history of man."
In the humbled rebels’ first reaction since the rescue, a news outlet close to FARC said they would be open to peace talks with the Uribe government.
"Definitely the future of Colombia cannot be civil war," read the statement on the pro-rebel Anncol news agency website.
The agency urged FARC to "not waste a historic opportunity" to hold negotiations that "would lead to a political exit to this conflict."
Veteran Cuban leader Fidel Castro meanwhile praised the rescue mission and condemned the FARC for holding civilians, saying their detention was cruel and "no revolutionary purpose could justify it."