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Colombia politician seeks damages
Former hostage Ingrid Betancourt alleges government failed to protect her from rebels.
Last Modified: 12 Jul 2010 08:33 GMT
Betancourt said she filed the case to open the way for other victims to ask for compensations [AFP]

A former presidential candidate in Colombia has accused the government of failing to protect her during her election campaign in 2002, when she was kidnapped by leftist rebels.

Ingrid Betancourt cited the alleged failure in a TV interview on Sunday as the reason for a multi-million-dollar demand she has made against the state.

She said that the government took her bodyguards away as she was about to drive into a jungle area filled with fighters belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

"They took my bodyguards from me and let me continue by road," Betancourt told Caracol television.

"They did not meet their responsibility to protect me as a presidential candidate."

Colombians were outraged when it was announced that Betancourt, 48, was suing the state for $6.8 million.

However, Betancourt insisted that the money sought was "symbolic" and meant  to open the way for those kidnapped to get some compensation for their suffering.

"The idea was never to attack those who freed me. I love Colombia's military. I love my country," she said.

Dangerous region

Government officials and colleagues in her presidential campaign say that they tried to prevent Betancourt from travelling to San Vicente del Caguan in 2002.

This was just after Andres Pastrana, the then president, ordered a Farc-held safe haven dismantled after failed peace talks.

Camilo Gomez, Pastrana's peace commissioner at the time, said on Friday that he personally urged Betancourt at the time not to travel to San Vicente due to the danger.

Colombia's defence ministry expressed "surprise and sorrow" at Betancourt's request for damages, saying that she had no grounds to hold the state responsible.

Farc rebels held Betancourtand others from early 2002 until mid 2008, when she was freed in a military rescue.

'I am not irresponsible'

Betancourt did not mention her compensation request when she was in Colombia on July 2 for a reunion with other former hostages and their rescuers, two years after they were freed.

But Betancourt, a dual Colombian-French national with close ties to France's political class, said that Colombia's government was in large part responsible for her kidnapping.

"I was not irresponsible. I am not irresponsible," she said.

During her captivity, Alvaro Uribe, the outgoing Colombian president, refused steadfastly to entertain the possibility of swapping Betancourt and other captivesfor Farc members in government custody.

That infuriated not just Betancourt's mother but other relatives of Farc captives.

Juan Manuel Santos, defence minister from 2006 until 2009, takes over when Uribe leaves office on August 7.

Source:
Agencies
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