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Ex-Hostage Betancourt Joyfully Welcomed In France

By Lisa Bryant
Paris

Former Colombian Hostage Betancourt Arrives in France

Ex-hostage Ingrid Betancourt received a joyful welcome in France, where she arrived Friday after spending more than six years as a hostage of Colombian rebels. Lisa Bryant has more on a homecoming of sorts for Betancourt, who has dual French-Colombian citizenship.

Ingrid Betancourt, 46, returned to a France that never forgot her during her years as hostage in the Colombian jungle, and which received the Franco-Colombian as a returning hero. Standing next to French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife on the tarmac of the Villacoublay air base outside Paris, and surrounded by her family, Betancourt's reaction to returning to her second home was emotional.

"Betancourt said she had dreamed of this moment of returning for seven years. Breathing the air of France, she said, and being back with the French people was a very moving moment," she said.

Paying tribute to the country she grew up in, Betancourt said she owed France everything. She described Sarkozy as an extraorinary man, and she thanked the French people for sharing her despair, and for battling and protesting and not giving up on her.

The French government had made Betancourt's plight a cause celebre, both under Sarkozy and his predecessor, Jacques Chirac. A picture of her taken as hostage, sick and frail, hangs in front of many French city halls. Since she was rescued Wednesday in a daring Colombian military operation, a white strip has been tacked to those banners saying, "released."

The French presidency said that Betancourt was scheduled to undergo medical exams. But she appeared joyful and upbeat Friday, and laced her remarks about her captivity with sometimes humorous comments. From Rome, Pope Benedict XVI said he would be happy to meet with her.

ENDS

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