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Betancourt, U.S. Hostages Freed From Colombian Rebels

Colombian rebels kept presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three American military contractors hostage for years before the country's military was able to release them Wednesday. Experts examine the fallout of their release to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Ingrid Betancourt was running for president of Colombia when she was captured in 2002 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

    Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howes were U.S. defense contractors on a counter-narcotics mission when they were taken prisoner after their plane crashed in 2003. Today, they were all rescued by the Colombian military.

    For more on today's developments, we turn to Chris Kraul, the Los Angeles Times bureau chief in Bogota.

    Welcome, Mr. Kraul.

  • CHRIS KRAUL, The Los Angeles Times:

    Hi.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    What can you tell us about how this happened?

  • CHRIS KRAUL:

    Well, it was something right out of Hollywood. The Colombian armed forces apparently infiltrated the security that surrounded 15 high-value hostages and put together this ruse, which involved the guards controlling these hostages, gathering them all together in one spot — they're usually in dispersed locations — and then convincing them to get on this helicopter to be taken to talk to the new FARC leader.

    As the hostages were boarding the helicopter, the FARC guards were either persuaded or they were overtaken — persuaded to give up the hostages or they were overtaken.

    And bottom line was that the 15 hostages were released and then flown toward Bogota. They're supposed to arrive at any moment in the capital.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    We have heard so much over the years, as these hostages have been held, about other efforts, deals that have been struck and not struck, efforts that have been made to free them. What was different that we know about this one?

  • CHRIS KRAUL:

    Well, rumors have been floating in the last several months. There's no doubt that the Colombian government, with U.S. intelligence help, it's presumed, have cracked the FARC's intelligence network and communications, so they've knocked off a couple of — a half-a-dozen leaders or so in the last year, including the founder and leader, died apparently of natural causes, but possibly in a bombing raid in March.

    So no question that the rebels have been on the run and that their logistics have been severely compromised.

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