In Colombia and the United States, the 12 Colombians and 3 Americans - freed in a dramatic rescue operation by the Colombian military - met with their families. Producer Zulima Palacio has the latest news in a story narrated by Mil Arcega.
Smiles, tears of joy and hugs were moving moments caught on tape in Colombia. The most dramatic moment of all was the reunion of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt with her two children Melanie and Lorenzo. They flew into Bogota early Thursday from France. Betancourt was kidnapped by leftist rebels in 2002 while campaigning for Colombia's presidency.
In the U.S., the three American hostages freed with the Colombian group, arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Keith Stansell, Thomas Howes and Marc Gonsalves walked off a military transport plane, setting foot on American soil for the first time since their capture, five years ago. From the Air Force base, the Americans were taken for a medical exam. They were then reunited with their families.
Hours after the rescue, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, flanked by former hostages, spoke at a news conference in Bogota. Ingrid Betancourt thanked him for the operation.
"I believe in a path of peace for Colombia, and I feel so blessed by God to have lived through this moment, because this was an operation of peace, not an operation of war," Betancourt said.
President Uribe said the operation was a "military success and a tribute to human rights." Not a single shot was fired during Wednesday's rescue mission.
"We did not fire against the group of guerrillas who remained on the ground for various reasons," Uribe said. "First, we were interested in freeing the hostages, not spilling blood. Secondly, there are compatriots who remain kidnapped and we wanted to send a message, not with words, but with facts, so that those compatriots are treated well and are returned to freedom and also because of that, we did not fire. And third, so that the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) understands that our policy of democratic security is not an ending in itself, but a path toward peace, toward total peace."Kudos for President Uribe and his military came in from around the world. The FARC operates over a large expanse of Colombian territory. It has been labeled by the U.S. and the European Union as a narco-terrorist organization. Recently several FARC commanders have died, been killed or arrested. The rescue was a key victory in the government's struggle against the group.
Meanwhile the Colombian military has provided only few details about the operation. The U.S. has said it provided some support. But many details continue to be secret.
While the nightmare is over for 15 hostages, more than 600 are still being held by the insurgents.