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French President Offers to Fly to Colombia to Free Hostage


French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for Colombia's main rebel group to release French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt before she dies in captivity. For VOA, Terry FitzPatrick reports from Cape Town that Mr. Sarkozy has offered to fly to Colombia if rebels demand his personal involvement.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is visiting South Africa, but says he has been in touch with two hostages released earlier this week by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a rebel group also known as FARC.

Mr. Sarkozy said the hostages told harrowing tales of their captivity, and said Ingrid Betancourt is very ill and is being mistreated.

"Forgive me for speaking bluntly, but I speak from the heart. Mr. Perez and Gloria Polanco shared with us their experiences and they are terrifying," he said. "Terrifying in terms of the cruelty that they described and the barbarism which literally makes one feel sick. And it is something that the FARC need to understand. The martyrdom of Ingrid Betancourt is in some sense the martyrdom of the whole of France."

Betancourt has duel French-Colombian citizenship and has been held hostage for six years. She is a former presidential candidate, and one of about 750 hostages that FARC is believed to be holding. Mr. Sarkozy publicly offered to fly to South America to secure her release.

"I am prepared to go personally to collect her from the border between Columbia and Venezuela, if indeed this is the precondition set by the FARC for her release," he said.

President Sarkozy said Betancourt's failing health makes the effort to secure her release "a race against death."

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