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FARC videos show Betancourt, American hostages alive

The videos, seized in a Colombian military operation, are the first proof of life of the hostages since 2003.

By / November 30, 2007

Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three US defense contractors, held hostage for years by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), appear alive and well in a series of videos seized Thursday by the Colombian military.

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Agence France-Presse reports that the videos are the first evidence of the hostages' well-being since 2003. The videos, along with photographs of and letters from the hostages, were in the possession of three suspected FARC members captured in Bogota.

In one film dated October 24, Betancourt, who was kidnapped in February 2002 whilst running for the Colombian presidency, is chained and looks depressed.
Another video dated January 1 shows US State Department contractors Mark Goncalves, Kein Stambler and Thomas Howes, who were captured by the FARC in February 2003. They appear in better health than Betancourt.
The videos have no sound, but Restrepo said the Americans have sent messages to their families. The Americans were also last seen in a 2003 video taken by a Colombian journalist.

The videos also include images of several members of Colombian security forces also being held by the FARC.

The FARC has been engaged in a war with the Colombian government since its founding in the 1960s. Although the group started as a leftist rebellion, it has expanded into involvement in cocaine production and drug trafficking, and is considered by both the US and Colombian governments as a terrorist organization.

Ms. Betancourt, a former Colombian senator and presidential candidate, was captured by the FARC on Feb. 23, 2002, and is the best known internationally of the rebel group's hostages.

The three Americans were conducting antinarcotics operations for the US when their plane went down over FARC-controlled territory on Feb.13, 2003.

No photos or video of Betancourt or the Americans had been seen since 2003. The FARC and the Colombian government have been attempting to negotiate a swap of the hostages for some 500 FARC members in Colombian and US prisons.

Reuters reports that the videos were viewed positively in France, where Betancourt grew up and still has family.

"All we see is a single photo where she is sitting at a small table and appears fairly thin, with very, very long hair. She is looking down. I had the feeling that her hand was chained. It's a sad image of my sister, but she is alive," Betancourt's sister Astrid told LCI television in France.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy played a key role in recent efforts to broker a deal to free FARC hostages in exchange for jailed rebel fighters. Earlier this year, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe freed a FARC commander to try to broker talks and in August invited Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to mediate.
Sarkozy said the findings were encouraging.
"Now that we know she is alive, we must fight relentlessly to obtain her release and an end to this ordeal as quickly as possible," Sarkozy told reporters in Nice.