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Ex-hostage Betancourt urges toning down of 'hate' speech toward rebels

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

PARIS -- Former hostage Ingrid Betancourt urged Colombia's president and others in the South American nation Monday to tone down their "radical, extremist language of hate" toward the leftist rebels who held her captive for six years.

Betancourt, a politician with dual French-Colombian citizenship who was released last week in a Colombian military operation, skirted questions about her own political future in the interview with French radio. She was campaigning for Colombia's presidency when she was captured in 2002.

Current polls show her popularity level is high but many Colombians feel alienated from politics.

"That makes me want to serve Colombia with all my heart, but I think that it is too early to talk of such things," she said on Radio France International.

Noting the possibility that Colombian President Alvaro Uribe could seek a third presidential term, Betancourt said, "Why not?"

She praised his efforts toward her release, but also sent him a warning.

"Uribe, and not only Uribe but all of Colombia, should also correct some things," she said. "We have reached the point where we must change the radical, extremist vocabulary of hate, of very strong words that intimately wound the human being."

Earlier Monday, she sent a message on RFI's Spanish service to hostages still captive in Colombian jungles. She has said that such radio messages from her children and other family members helped keep her alive during her extended ordeal.

Betancourt's plight elicited much concern around France, where supporters held vigils to urge her release and where the governments of two presidents championed her cause. She came to France -- where she grew up and her children live -- soon after her release.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office announced Monday that Betancourt will receive the Legion of Honor award at a Bastille Day ceremony July 14. She will speak at the National Assembly, France's lower house of parliament, on Wednesday.

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