July 20, 2008 / 1:49 PM / 12 years ago

Betancourt urges FARC to free hostages

PARIS (Reuters) - Ingrid Betancourt urged Colombian rebels to free all hostages as she addressed a rally in the French capital on Sunday that was part of a series of demonstrations around the world to protest against kidnappings.

Franco-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt delivers a speech during a concert in Paris for the remaining hostages detained by leftist guerrillas in Colombia and elsewhere July 20, 2008. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Thousands gathered near the Eiffel Tower to hear Betancourt, a Franco-Colombian politician rescued from captivity this month after spending more than six years as a hostage of Colombian rebel forces.

“We want freedom for everyone,” said Betancourt, drawing loud applause from the crowd, many of whom chanted the Spanish word for freedom “Libertad!”.

Betancourt’s speech, delivered in Spanish, was shown on television in Colombia, which is also preparing to hold a mass anti-kidnapping rally on its national day.

Hundreds of Colombians gathered in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor over the weekend to call for peace in Colombia and to celebrate Betancourt’s liberation.

A smiling Betancourt was flanked on the Paris stage by her mother and various artists and singers.

She called for an end to the conflict between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). She also read out a list of names of those still held by the FARC and called for their release.

The FARC has been fighting a socialist insurgency for 44 years, mainly financed since the 1980s by the cocaine trade.

Betancourt and 14 other hostages were freed after Colombian military agents tricked FARC fighters into handing the group over to them. The agents pretended to be non-governmental workers acting as go-betweens for the FARC leadership.

She is a popular figure in France and was awarded one of France’s top honors by President Nicolas Sarkozy this month.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Madrid

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