Colombia rescue video caught hostages' first moment of joy

BOGOTA, Colombia — A video released Friday shows 15 captives walking sullenly to a helicopter that they believed was about to transfer them to another rebel camp. Then, within minutes, they hug one another and cry with joy as they realize that they're free.

The Colombian defense ministry on Friday provided both the video and more details of Wednesday’s dramatic rescue that freed three U.S. military contractors, former senator and presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, as well as 11 Colombian policemen and soldiers.

Their captors were the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Known as the FARC for their Spanish initials, they have been waging a 44-year war to topple Colombia’s democratically-elected governments.

The video images began with the guerrillas in a grassy clearing. The hostages are shown bound with plastic cords, a demand made by the rescue-mission commandos who were disguised as international aid workers.

The idea was to make the guerrillas think that the hostages were merely being transferred.

One Colombian captive is seen chewing out a commando disguised as a cameraman because the cameraman won't let him complain about his mistreatment as a hostage.

Many hostages appeared unhappy about the handcuffs..

Gen. Mario Montoya, commander of the army, said an American hostage, who appeared to be Keith Stansell, helped matters by agreeing to be the first to be handcuffed.

Military officials revealed more of the trickery employed in the daring rescue that got the FARC to inadvertently turn over the hostages without a shot being fired.

The Colombian commando who led the mission impersonated an Italian while another commando passed as an Arab and a third commando acted like an Australian.

"He was just like Crocodile Dundee," said Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, referring to the 1980s cinematic action comedy hero.

Santos denied a Swiss radio report Friday that the government paid $20 million to the lead FARC guerrilla, alias Cesar, who led the 15 hostages onto the helicopter.

"We did not pay him anything," Santos said.

Authorities displayed Cesar publicly on Thursday in handcuffs and sporting a black eye that they said he suffered while being subdued just after the helicopter took off.

Meanwhile, cities throughout Colombia began feverish preparations on Friday for a huge national demonstration in two weeks to reject the FARC and demand that its leaders free the remaining hostages they hold.

Betancourt is expected to head the marchers' ranks on July 20.

The release of her and the others has prompted a national celebration.

Betancourt, a French-Colombian citizen kidnapped in 2002, flew to France on Friday where French President Nicolas Sarkozy greeted her with a hug and kisses on both cheeks.

Betancourt's two French children accompanied her. She had been reunited with them on Thursday in Bogota after more than six years of captivity in Colombia's jungle.

Freeing Betancourt became a cause celebre in Paris and, to a lesser extent, other cities in Europe.

The peace march in Colombia was suggested by one of the freed policemen. Media companies and non-profit groups dedicated to peace immediately picked up on the idea.

It will be modeled after a massive Feb. 4 demonstration that galvanized public support against the FARC, which, after waging a 44-year war against Colombia's democratically elected governments, is on the ropes.

Defecting FARC guerrillas have cited the outpouring of public rejection as a reason to surrender. Newly freed hostages have cited it as a reason they kept the faith while manacled in the jungle.

Among those who welcomed Betancourt's rescue was Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

"They never should have kidnapped civilians nor maintained military personnel in jungle conditions," Castro wrote in a column published Friday in Cuba. "No revolutionary purpose could justify it."

He wrote that Cuba's rebels routinely freed captured soldiers during their late 1950s guerrilla war.

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