Ex-hostage Betancourt says she won’t sue Colombia’s gov’t for damages over her hostage ordeal

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Betancourt says she won’t sue Colombia government

BOGOTA, Colombia — Former hostage Ingrid Betancourt says that despite seeking $6.8 million in damages for her more than six years in jungle captivity, she has no intention of suing Colombia for the money.

However, Betancourt also accuses the government of helping to facilitate her kidnapping, saying it stripped her of bodyguards though she was a presidential candidate and refused to let her fly by helicopter over the rebel-controlled road where she was seized.

Betancourt’s emotional explanation Sunday in a televised prime-time interview from New York came two days after it was disclosed that she had filed the damages request June 30. By law, she has the option of suing the government if it does not agree to a damage award she deems acceptable.

Colombians reacted angrily to the announcement, calling Betancourt ungrateful. Their military rescued her and 14 others — including three U.S. military contractors — on July 2, 2008, from guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Betancourt did not mention her indemnization request when she was in Colombia on July 2 for a reunion with other former hostages and their rescuers two years after the elaborate, bloodless ruse in which they regained freedom.

Sounding apologetic, the 48-year-old Betancourt stressed during the TV interview that her intention in filing for the damages — for her as well as her mother and two children — was to “open the way so that other people who have been kidnapped can get compensation.”

“The idea was never to attack those who freed me,” she said. “I love Colombia’s military. I love my country.”

She called her indemnization request “astronomic” and yet “symbolic” and said she filed it when she did because the statute of limitations was running out.

But Betancourt, a dual Colombian-French national with close ties to France’s political class, also sought to explain why she sought the money. Colombia’s government was in large part responsible for her kidnapping, she said.

“I was not irresponsible. I am not irresponsible,” she said.

Not just government officials but also colleagues in her presidential campaign tried to prevent Betancourt from traveling in February 2002 to San Vicente del Caguan, where then-President Andres Pastrana had just ordered a rebel safe haven dismantled after failed peace talks.

Betancourt said Sunday the government pulled her bodyguards and armored cars and denied her a helicopter that would have allowed her to travel safely to San Vicente. She said the commanding general in Florencia, from which she departed by road, did not warn her the road was unsafe.

However, Pastrana’s peace commissioner at the time, Camilo Gomez, told The Associated Press on Friday that he personally urged Betancourt at the time not to travel to San Vicente due to the danger.

Colombia’s Defense Ministry expressed “surprise” and “sorrow” at Betancourt’s request for damages in a statement on Friday. It said Betancourt had no grounds to hold the state responsible.

Betancourt, who now divides her time between New York and Paris, did not mention one other possible motivation for her indemnization request.

During her captivity, hard-line President Alvaro Uribe refused steadfastly to entertain the possibility of swapping Betancourt and other FARC captives for rebel prisoners. That infuriated not just Betancourt’s mother but other relatives of FARC captives.

Uribe leaves office Aug. 7. Colombia’s president-elect, Juan Manuel Santos, was his defense minister in 2006-2009 and oversaw Betancourt’s rescue.

Associated Press Writer Vivian Sequera contributed to this report.

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