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Betancourt: Rescue is a 'miracle'

  • Story Highlights
  • "You don't have to cry any more," Betancourt told her mother
  • Betancourt calls on FARC to release remaining hostages
  • She also asks rebel leaders for mercy on behalf of guards who let hostages go
  • FARC kidnapped Betancourt in 2002, as she was campaigning for president
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(CNN) -- Former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt has described her rescue from leftist rebels as "a miracle" and "a moment of pride" in Colombia.

Fifteen hostages held by Colombian rebels -- including Betancourt and three Americans -- were freed Wednesday without a shot being fired in an elaborately planned rescue, government officials said.

Wearing a camouflage vest and hat and appearing healthy after being held hostage for more than six years in the jungle, Betancourt stepped onto the tarmac from a Colombian military jet in Bogota and hugged her mother and husband, smiling broadly.

"Well, let's see if I can speak because I am very, very moved," she said.

"To the Virgin Mary, I prayed a lot. I imagined this moment very often, with my mom."

Then, she addressed her mother directly.

"You don't have to cry any more," she said.

Betancourt then kneeled on the tarmac along with her fellow former captives, prayed and received a blessing from a Catholic priest.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia kidnapped the former senator and aggressive reformer in February 2002 while she was campaigning in a remote southern area of the country. She was an outspoken campaigner against corruption and the drug trade in her country.

Her release was greeted with an outpouring of joy in France, politicians and media praising a woman who had become a cause celebre in the country where she grew up.

On Wednesday she appeared in good health despite reports that she had suffered chronic liver problems for years while in captivity.

She walked from the plane on her own and remained standing for more than an hour as she recounted her rescue and answered questions from reporters. Video Watch Betancourt talk about her release »

She paused to remember other hostages who never made it home and called on FARC to release all remaining prisoners.

"This moment of happiness will not help us forget that it was a miracle -- that others died," she said. "The peace has to come with the commitment that there will be no more kidnapping."

She also asked rebel leaders for mercy for a more unlikely group -- the guards holding her captive when she was rescued.

"We left them alive and God willing they will remain alive because I hope they will not be held accountable by the FARC," Betancourt said. "It was not their fault. The operation was perfect."

In the elaborately planned ruse, Colombian military arrived in white helicopters posing as rebels intended to transfer the hostages to another location. Read more about the rescue operation

Betancourt thanked Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who "knew exactly how to play his cards well for us." Still, she said she still dreams of one day serving as Colombia's president.

One of the recently released hostages appeared to have a coatimundi -- an animal related to the raccoon common in the jungles of South and Central America -- on a leash on his shoulder.

Meanwhile, Betancourt's family celebrated a day they sometimes feared would never come.

Melanie Delloye, her daughter, stood beside French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, thanking everyone who supported Betancourt before boarding a plane to meet with her mother.

"We just want to hold mom in our arms," she said. "You've allowed us to begin living the most beautiful moment of our life."

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Betancourt attended school in France and also holds French citizenship.

"There were a lot of deceptions, but they always believed and they always had confidence," Sarkozy said. "There is always a small glimmer of hope and today the joy is huge. All of France is happy to welcome back Ingrid Betancourt." Video Watch Sarkozy thank the Colombian government »

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