Fri, Feb 29, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Freed Colombian hostages meet families in Venezuela

AGENCIES , CARACAS AND CAPE TOWN

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, second right, kisses former Colombian senator Gloria Polanco as former representative Orlando Beltran, top left, and former senator Luis Eladio Perez, left, look on during a welcoming ceremony at Miraflores Presidential Palace in Caracas for the freed hostages on Wednesday.

PHOTO: AP

Four Colombian former lawmakers freed by guerrillas spoke of their six-year ordeal in the jungles of Colombia as the daughter of Ingrid Betancourt, one of the remaining hostages, expressed her anguish.

Luis Eladio Perez told reporters in Caracas: "It's the greatest feeling: to be born again ... You can't imagine the horrors of living seven years in the subhuman conditions we were kept."

Perez and and the three others -- Gloria Polanco, Orlando Beltran and Jorge Gechem -- were freed on Wednesday by Red Cross and Venezuelan officials and flown in on Venezuelan aircraft.

Perez said he had survived a heart attack, three diabetic comas and a kidney malfunction because of tropical diseases. He also said he feared for Betancourt, the most high-profile prisoner still held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and vowed to do all to have her freed as well.

Betancourt, a 46-year-old French-Colombian who was seized in 2002 as she campaigned for the Colombian presidency, was "very, very sick, physically and morally spent," he said, adding that he last saw her on Feb. 4.

In Paris, Betancourt's daughter Melanie Delloye expressed her concern at Perez's account.

"Mother is alive, but I don't know for how much longer and I know that we have to get her out of there as quickly as possible," she told RTL radio. "So I am extremely upset about it. I hope that the FARC and the Colombian government are going to reach a humanitarian agreement as quickly as possible."

Perez said three Americans captured in 2003 by the rebels were also faring badly.

On Wednesday, Chavez made a "from the heart" appeal to FARC leader Manuel Marulanda to move Betancourt to a safe location.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said yesterday that he was ready to go to Colombia to secure her release if necessary.

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