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Colombian Envoy Recounts Hostage Rescue Efforts


We're learning more details this morning about yesterday's dramatic hostage rescue in the jungles of Colombia. The Colombian military freed 15 people who'd been held by the FARC rebel group. The hostages included Ingrid Betancourt; she was running for president when the FARC kidnapped her six years ago.

Three American military contractors were also free during the operation. Carolina Barco is the Colombian ambassador to the United States and she joins us now from Bogota. Good morning.

Ms. CAROLINA BARCO ISAKSON (Colombian Ambassador to U.S.): Good morning.

SHAPIRO: Tell us a little bit more about the planning that went into this operation. I understand it was in the works for years. Is that right?

Ms. ISAKSON: Well, at least for many months, almost a year. And it entailed many parts of our armed forces. It was done with great intelligence. They had to try every step out. Because as you know, what they had to do was infiltrate the secretariat.

SHAPIRO: You mean the secretariat of the FARC.

Ms. ISAKSON: Of the FARC, yes. The top, top echelon. Infiltrate the group (unintelligible) group, who was in charge of three different kidnapping groups, and convince them then to assemble them in one place, supposedly to be taken to the secretariat, to the new leader, Mr. Cano, and so this entailed great patience in getting him to believe in the sources, to make these movements. And yesterday, when the helicopter arrived as some kind of an international organization which just had white helicopters and people with white dresses, because no insignia was used, they accepted to get on the helicopters, they accepted to sit where they were told. So it was something that was worked out very, very carefully. As Ingrid Betancourt herself said, it was perfect, because there was no shot and nobody was hurt.

SHAPIRO: Where were you yesterday when you found out that the rescue had gone off successfully?

Ms. ISAKSON: I was in Cartagena, and I was on my way to Bogota.

SHAPIRO: And can you describe that moment for us, how you found out and what it felt like?

Ms. ISAKSON: Jubilation. Senator McCain had just (unintelligible) Cartagena, after a very positive visit. And I was in the airport awaiting to get on my flight to come to Bogota, and as we got in the flight, somebody next to me got a message in the Blackberry that Ingrid had been released. We went to the pilot and said would you listen and confirm if this is true. And so the pilot confirmed and I must say the whole airplane was just so joyous. We'd all been waiting for this moment. We were waiting for the moment when the rest of the hostages can be freed. But it was a moment of great joy and incredible pride.

SHAPIRO: Have you had an opportunity to speak with Ingrid Betancourt or any of the other hostages?

Ms. ISAKSON: No. Yesterday was their day with their families. But I must say that we were all stuck to the television all afternoon as we watched them get off the planes, meet with their families. That embrace between Ingrid and her mother was the most warming embrace. They couldn't believe that they were together. Ingrid came out with such a positive attitude - thankful, gracious, generous. She's a lesson for us, as were all the other soldiers who all - all they had were words of thanks. So it was a very moving afternoon and I think it showed the incredible strength and resilience of Colombians.

SHAPIRO: Do you know Ms. Betancourt personally?

Ms. ISAKSON: Yes, I do. Her family and my family have been friends for many years. Her mother worked with my father when he was mayor in '68. So it's a long history and I've always admired her. She's a very intelligent woman, and yesterday she showed us the kind of strength of character that she has.

SHAPIRO: Thank you very much.

Ms. ISAKSON: Okay, thank you. Carolina Barco is the Colombian ambassador to the United States. She was speaking with us from Bogota, Colombia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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