Arriving in France to a hero's welcome, Ingrid Betancourt said she cried a lot during her captivity in the Colombian jungle.
Today, she said, "I cry with joy."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife met the French-Colombian politician on the tarmac of an air base southwest of Paris yesterday, showering her with hugs, kisses and smiles.
Betancourt, 46, became a cause celebre in France following her abduction in 2002 while campaigning for the Colombian presidency. During her captivity by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Betancourt's supporters around France held candlelight vigils and benefit concerts to attract world attention to her plight.
Her release in an ingenious Colombian military operation Wednesday, and her arrival in France on Friday, were greeted here with a flood of enthusiasm. Hundreds of people, some carrying Colombian or French flags, and many with cameras, lined up behind police barriers around Paris' Elysee presidential palace in hope of getting a glimpse of her.
"France is my home and you are my family," Betancourt said in an address from the windswept tarmac carried live on French television.
Addressing the French people, she said their support and mobilization in her favor "saved my life."
"I have cried a lot during this time from pain and indignation. Today, I cry with joy," she said, her voice choked and eyes moist.
Sarkozy praised Betancourt as a beacon of hope for people in dire situations.
"All those, like you, who suffer throughout the world should know that ... there is a light at the end of the tunnel," said the French leader, flanked by his wife and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
Speaking at a reception in a gilded hall at the Elysee presidential palace, Betancourt called on Sarkozy to keep fighting for the liberation of the thousands of remaining FARC hostages.
"I'm sorry to ask you this like this, in public," she told Sarkozy as the crowd of hundreds cheered and cameras flashed. "But we still need you."
"We cannot leave them (the hostages) where they are. They are suffering, they are alone."
The rescue mission — in which a total of 15 hostages were spirited to freedom — was a major victory in the Colombian government's fight against the FARC, and Betancourt appealed to the rebels to "be good losers."
She said she expected any future efforts to win the hostages' release would now prove even more difficult.
Asked about a Swiss radio report that a ransom was paid to the rebels for freeing her and the other hostages and that the release was staged, Betancourt said she couldn't doubt the authenticity of what she lived through.
"Honestly, in my heart, I don't think I can be easily duped," she said. She described the memory of her defeated captor, "this man hunched on the ground, eyes blindfolded, hands behind his back, hands and feet tied. I don't think someone who had received a ransom could have had such an expression."
Senior Colombian military officials also deny a ransom was paid.
Betancourt described her years in the jungle, which she called "an absolutely hostile world, where everything is your enemy, everything is dangerous, everything is against you."
She said she would undergo medical exams Saturday at Val-de-Grace military hospital in Paris. Betancourt already received a preliminary medical exam aboard the French government plane that carried her to France, but because she went through spells of ill health during her captivity, she said she wanted a thorough checkup.
Betancourt said only her dreams of going back to her family kept her going through the ordeal.
Asked about her plans, Betancourt said she wanted to live with her children Melanie, 22, and Lorenzo, 19, who reached adulthood in Paris during her captivity.
Betancourt credited her religious faith with helping her survive her captivity and said trips to Catholic churches in France are on her agenda, as is a possible trip to the Vatican to "say hello to the Pope."
From the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI sent word Friday that he would be happy to meet with Betancourt as soon as his schedule permits.
Betancourt did not comment on rumors about possible plans to return to politics in France or in Colombia, saying only that she wanted to dedicate her life to helping improve those of others.
Betancourt also said she hoped to write several books and perhaps even a play.
"I think that could possibly allow me to say things I can't say in another way and free myself," said Betancourt, who was dressed in a dark blue suit lit up by a rhinestone-emblazoned brooch of a swallow in flight.
Sarkozy made freeing Betancourt a priority the night he was elected France's president in May 2007. Former President Jacques Chirac also worked for her release, and former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is a longtime friend of Betancourt.
Betancourt's release was a big image boost for Sarkozy; even his rivals acknowledged that his diplomatic efforts kept up the pressure on Colombia to find ways to get her released. But Sarkozy's top aide said he was not informed in advance of the operation that freed her.Reuse content