Fifteen former hostages in Colombia are reuniting with family members after Colombia's military rescued them from the hands of leftist rebels on Wednesday. VOA's Brian Wagner reports those rescued include former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three American defense contractors.
Ingrid Betancourt embraced her mother at a military airport in Bogota, where she arrived shortly after being rescued by Colombian security forces.
She said the operation to rescue her, three American contractors and 11 Colombian security officials was flawless. She said it was a miracle to be free after more than six years in captivity.
Betancourt said she knows many people suffered along with her children and the rest of her family. And she said the rescue operation gave great pride to all Colombians.
Betancourt was seized in 2002, while she was campaigning in a rural area where rebel forces were known to be active. One year later,rebels seized the three Americans -- Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell -- after their plane crashed during a drug surveillance flight south of Bogota.
Shortly after the rescue, the Americans boarded a plane to return to the United States and reunite with family members.
Colombia's Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said the rescue operation was carried out by intelligence agents with no shots being fired. He said agents had infiltrated a rebel unit and duped them into hiring a helicopter piloted by security officials to transport the hostages. He said the rescue operation delivered a major blow to the rebel group.
Santos said the recent deaths of several rebel leaders as well as the surrender of many others show the group is suffering, and Colombia must keep up the pressure.
In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the rescue alongside relatives of Betancourt, who holds Colombian and French citizenship. Her son, Lorenzo Delloye Betancourt, said it was the best moment of his life.
Betancourt and the American contractors were among some 40 high-profile hostages held by rebels in an effort to negotiate a prisoner exchange with Colombia's government. Hundreds of others are being held in exchange for ransom.
After her release, Betancourt said Colombia's government and its international partners must continue working to free all the hostages in rebel hands.
Betancourt said the remaining hostages must be freed, hopefully through negotiations, but if not, then she said Colombia has great faith in the armed forces.
The White House said President Bush called Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe to congratulate him on the rescue operation.
U.S. defense officials say the Colombians "planned, led and executed" the rescue, but the United States helped transport the freed hostages to Bogota after the operation.