BOGOTA, Colombia – Rescued hostage Ingrid Betancourt said she will travel to France on Thursday and meet President Nicolas Sarkozy now that she is free after more than six years of captivity among Colombian rebels.
The former Colombian presidential candidate said she is probably alive today thanks to efforts by the French to press for her cause.
"I want to tell President Sarkozy — and through him all the French people — that they were our support, our light," Betancourt said in an interview with the Colombian television station RCN early Thursday. "It's time for me to thank the French, to tell them I admire them, that I feel proud to be French as well."
The dual French-Colombian citizen said she would travel to France after being reunited with her children, who were flying to Colombia.
The military freed her in a daring helicopter rescue along with three Americans and 11 Colombian hostages and she wore a camouflage jacket hours after the rescue.
Betancourt, who was kidnapped six years ago while campaigning for the presidency, called for the rebels to release more captives and said she hopes to help work toward reconciliation in Colombia. She said it is too soon to say if she will get involved in Colombian politics again, and wants to discuss her plans with her family first.
"At the end of my life, I'd like them to bury me in France," Betancourt said. "I think I owe that to them. ... If I'm alive today, it's because of them."
Her plight has drawn an outpouring of support in Europe, with crowds praying in vigils and holding photos of her in the streets during her years of captivity.
Betancourt said the rebels sometimes did not want to give her medicine when she was sick, but that her captors eased their treatment and "held back because France was behind" her.
She expressed particular gratitude to former President Jacques Chirac. "When we felt we were abandoned, all of a sudden there was that hand of President Chirac, to whom I want to say ... that he protected us, he protected my family."
Betancourt said she regrets she will miss a celebratory march in Colombia on Friday, but is willing to join it remotely — "if I have to march in France to accompany them."