November 28, 2008 / 9:17 PM / 11 years ago

Colombia, led by Betancourt, protests kidnappings

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Thousands marched on Friday in Colombia’s main cities to protest kidnappings carried out by FARC rebels holding hundreds of hostages in secret jungle camps as part of their 44-year-old insurgency.

Colombians also demonstrated in other countries, gathering in cities as far apart as Paris and Beijing, where one group held a candle-light vigil.

Ingrid Betancourt, who was freed in a military rescue mission in July after years held by the rebels, led the demonstrations from Madrid, urging Colombians to demand that the outlawed guerrilla army free its hostages.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish initials FARC, kidnaps for ransom and political leverage as it tries to bring down the Colombian state.

“Free them now! Free them now!” shouted marchers in Bogota, clad in white T-shirts and waving the white flags that have come to represent Colombia’s anti-kidnap movement.

Colombian employers let their workers out to join marches that filled town squares and main streets around the country.

French-Colombian politician Betancourt was snatched in 2002 while running for president on an anti-corruption platform. She left Colombia soon after her rescue due to security concerns.

Betancourt and three long-held American defense contractors were freed in a daring operation in which state security forces posed as members of a leftist humanitarian organization.

“The world should remember that all human beings have the same importance as Ingrid Betancourt and the three Americans,” said Marleny Orjuela, leader of a group that represents the families of kidnapped soldiers and police officers.

Reporting by Hugh Bronstein, editing by Anthony Boadle

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