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Newly freed Colombian hostages appeal for Betancourt's freedom

Newly freed Colombian hostages appeal for Betancourt's freedom

President Hugo Chavez appealed to the leader of Colombia's main leftist rebel group Wednesday to improve living conditions for hostage Ingrid Betancourt amid reports that she is extremely ill and badly mistreated by her guerrilla captors.
"Ingrid was in a bad way. She was very, very, very, very sick," said former Sen. Luis Eladio Perez, one of four hostages released Wednesday by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and flown to Venezuela.
Perez said he last saw the dual French national _ a former Colombian presidential candidate who has become a cause celebre in much of Europe _ for a few minutes on Feb. 4.
"She was physically and morally exhausted," he said in a radio interview.
Another of the four Colombian politicians freed Wednesday after six years of FARC captivity appealed directly to Chavez to secure Betancourt's release.
"As a woman and a mother, I ask from my heart here in front of everyone that you fight to get Ingrid free as soon as possible," Gloria Polanco said when the freed hostages met with Chavez at the presidential palace. "She is very ill, president, very ill. She has recurrent Hepatitis B and is near the end."
Chavez turned to television cameras recording the meeting and asked the FARC's leader, Manuel Marulanda, "from my heart to change Ingrid's location. Move her to a base closer to you, while we continue working to pave the way for her definitive release."
Perez described her treatment as "merciless."
"She is chained up ... surrounded by people who have not made her life pleasant at all," he said.
Betancourt, who was kidnapped in February 2002, is convinced she will be the final hostage to be freed, Perez added. Many Colombians agree, given Betancourt's value to the FARC as a bargaining chip _ plus the international attention her family and the French government have brought to her case.
The 46-year old Betancourt and three U.S. defense contractors are the core of a group of high-value hostages the FARC is demanding be exchanged for hundreds of rebels imprisoned in Colombia and the United States.
In proof-of-life images made public at the end of November, a gaunt Betancourt appears in a jungle clearing, staring at the ground and hardly moving.
A letter that accompanied the video was even more disheartening for her family, which includes two children.
"I'm physically unwell. I haven't resumed eating. My appetite is gone. My hair is falling out," she wrote. "Life here is no life. It's a dismal waste of time ... Here we are the living dead."
In an interview with The Associated Press last week marking Betancourt's sixth year of captivity, husband Juan Carlos Lecompte said time is running out.
"We know we don't have months or years to save her," he said. "We're talking days or weeks."
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AP writer Toby Muse in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-06-15 16:21 GMT+08:00