Tue, Jul 13, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Former hostage accuses Bogota of failing to protect her

OUTRAGEColombia’s vice president said Ingrid Betancourt’s decision to sue the government was deserving of the ‘world prize for ingratitude’

REUTERS , BOGOTA

Colombia’s government took Ingrid Betancourt’s bodyguards away as she was about to drive into a jungle area filled with guerrillas, the former hostage said on Sunday, outlining the reasons for her multimillion-dollar demand against the state.

The one-time presidential candidate, held in rebel camps from early 2002 to mid-2008 when she was freed in a military rescue, outraged Colombians on Friday when it came out that she is suing the state for US$6.8 million in damages.

She played that down in a television interview on Sunday, saying the money was “symbolic.” However, she insisted the state failed to protect her while she was running for president.

WARNED

Betancourt was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) after being warned by state security officials not to go to the southern town of San Vicente del Caguan, where she was captured by the rebels.

She says that the government, by stripping her of her security detail and not stopping her from making the trip, set her up to be kidnapped.

“They took my bodyguards from me and let me continue by road,” Betancourt, 48, told Caracol television. “They did not meet their responsibility to protect me as a presidential candidate ... I was not irresponsible.”

Many have reacted indignantly to her petition.

Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos said it wins “the world prize for ingratitude” toward the soldiers who risked their lives to rescue her in July 2008.

LAMBASTING

Having taken a lambasting in the local press since Friday, Betancourt said the true aim of her suit was to open dialogue between the state and victims of Colombia’s decades-old war.

“The pain I feel has made me reflect a lot,” she said.

Two years ago, Betancourt’s FARC jailers were duped into handing her and 14 other hostages over to Colombian soldiers masquerading as members of a humanitarian group that had volunteered to fly them by helicopter to a new location.

The rescue was a humiliating blow to the FARC, which has been put on the defensive by a US-backed military campaign aimed at crushing the cocaine-funded insurgency.

Betancourt, a dual French-Colombian national, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize after her rescue and was seen briefly as a viable candidate in this year’s presidential election.

However, she has lived in Europe since being freed and her petition appears unlikely to help her popularity in Colombia.

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