Hopes rise in France for release of Betancourt

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The Independent US

Encouraged by yesterday's hostage releases, the French government will intensify its efforts to secure the freedom of Ingrid Betancourt, the Franco-Colombian politician held captive in the Colombian jungle for almost six years.

In a statement from the Elysée Palace last night, President Nicolas Sarkozy said France was "profoundly overjoyed" at the release of the two hostages.

"This is a proof that things are moving, that mobilisation is beginning to work," he said. "It will encourage us to redouble our efforts to bring home the other hostages, and especially Ingrid Betancourt."

President Sarkozy has made Mme Betancourt's freedom one of the top diplomatic priorities of his government. There was bitter disappointment in Paris last month when moves by M. Sarkozy – including a television and radio message to the Farc guerrillas – failed to restore Mme Betancourt to her family by Christmas.

French officials hope, in particular, that the release yesterday of Mme Betancourt's former campaign manager, Clara Rojas, is a sign that the Farc leadership is ceding to international pressure.

Paris is expected to renew appeals to the Colombian government to avoid military action in Farc-held areas and to allow international negotiations – including further contacts by the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – to continue.

Mme Betancourt, 45, who has joint French and Colombian nationality, was kidnapped with Mme Rojas almost six years ago while campaigning to be Colombia's president.

Her daughter, Mélanie Delloye, said last night from New York: "This is a great boost to hopes that all the other hostages, including mummy, will be home soon. It shows that, where there is a will, things can move forward."

A video of Mme Betancourt, captured by the Colombian authorities last November, showed her sitting in a jungle camp, looking ill and gaunt. In a letter to her mother, captured at the same time, Mme Betancourt said that she was enduring a "living death".

Her former husband, Fabrice Delloye, father of her two children, expressed the hope that "the dialogue will continue with discretion and in tranquillity".

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