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Colombia Frees Betancourt, U.S. Hostages

Published: July 4, 2008 (Issue # 1387)



  • Yolanda Pulecio kisses her daughter, French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt (r) following her rescue on Wednesday.
    Photo: John Vizcaino / Reuters

BOGOTA, Colombia Ingrid Betancourt woke up, as always, at 4 a.m., for another numbing day in her seventh year of rebel captivity deep in Colombias jungle.

The former presidential candidate listened to news of her mother and daughter over the radio then was told to pack by her guerrilla captors helicopters were coming.

The sound always filled her with dread, but this time she and 14 other hostages including three U.S. military contractors held since 2003 were airlifted to freedom in an audaciously perfect operation involving military spies who tricked the rebels into handing over their prize hostages without firing a shot.

The stunning caper involved months of intelligence gathering, dozens of helicopters on standby and a strong dose of deceit: The rebels shoved the captives, their hands bound, onto a white unmarked MI-17 helicopter, believing they were being transferred to another guerrilla camp.

Looking at helicopters crew, some wearing Che Guevara shirts, Betancourt reasoned they werent aid workers, as shed expected but rebels.

This was just another indignity the helicopter had no flag, no insignia. Angry and upset, she refused a coat they offered as they told her she was going to a colder climate.

But not long after the group was airborne, Betancourt turned around and saw the local commander, alias Cesar, a man who had tormented her for four years, blindfolded and stripped naked on the floor.

Then came the unbelievable words.

Were the national army, said one of the crewman. Youre free.

The helicopter crew were soldiers in disguise. Cesar and the other guerrilla aboard had been persuaded to hand over their pistols, then overpowered.

Not a single shot was fired in Wednesdays rescue mission, which snatched from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the four foreigners who were its greatest bargaining chips.

The helicopter almost fell from the sky because we were jumping up and down, yelling, crying, hugging one another, Betancourt later said.

The operation, which also freed 11 Colombian soldiers and police, will go into history for its audacity and effectiveness, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said.

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Gatchina Palace Park Museum will host its second annual Night of Light, an impressive audio-visual show across the night sky. Tickets are 600 rubles ($16).


If graphic design is more your thing then check out Illustration Day, where you will be able to visit an exhibition, attend lectures by professionals and even show experts some of your own work. The event starts at noon at Zona Deystvia, 73 Ligovsky Prospekt. The entrance fee is 350 rubles ($10).



Sunday, Aug. 3


History lovers shouldnt miss the chance to see reenactments of World War I battles in Pushkin at noon. Besides exciting war scenes, visitors can enjoy live music, historical costumes, an equestrian show and a fancy-dress parade starting from the Moscow gates.


Garage Sale, the popular and growing flea market where nothing is priced over 500 rubles ($14.11), starts today at noon in Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt. Be sure to get in early to score a bargain. Entry costs 50 rubles ($1.40)



Monday, Aug. 4


Continue the working week with a calm and steady mind with a free yoga lesson at 7 p.m. in the Bukvoyed store at 23A Vladimirsky Prospekt.



Tuesday, Aug. 5


Visit The Romanov Dynasty doll exhibition today, where more than fifty porcelain dolls depicting Russian rulers, and made by Olina Ventzel, will be on show. The exhibition continues through Aug. 31 in Sheremetyev Palace, 34 Fontanka Naberezhnaya.



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