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In Colombia, a mother presses for her hostage daughter's release

Yolanda Pulecio's relentless campaign to release her daughter and others kidnapped by rebels in Colombia has made her an international goodwill ambassador

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For anyone who knew Ingrid Betancourt as a fiery politician constantly challenging the status quo, a recent video of the French-Colombian hostage is disturbing. In the brief recording, she sits on a makeshift bench in a jungle setting, her eyes downcast, her hands in her lap. She is gaunt and listless. She never looks at the camera and she does not speak.

"Life here is not life," wrote Ms. Betancourt in a 12-page letter to her mother, Yolanda Pulecio. "I have lost my will. I don't want anything because here ... the only response to any request is 'No.' "

Betancourt was running for president when she was kidnapped in February 2002 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which is holding at least 45 other high-profile hostages, including three Americans, as political pawns in their fight against the government.

Partly because of her dual nationality and partly because of her mother's incessant campaigning, Betancourt has become the international symbol for the hostages. And her mother, Mrs. Pulecio, has become an international goodwill ambassador for their families.

Shuttling from one world capital to the next, Pulecio has met with dozens of presidents in an effort to drum up international pressure on the Colombian government to make concessions to the rebels for humanitarian reasons. She has just returned from Buenos Aires where she was a special guest at last week's swearing-in ceremony of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. On the sidelines of the ceremony, Pulecio met with the leaders of Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela, who all called for the Colombian government to step up efforts to secure the release of the hostages.

Her efforts have been championed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been personally involved in efforts to free the hostages since he came to power in May. Last week, he issued a rare televised appeal, speaking directly to guerrilla chief Manuel Marulanda to free Betancourt as a humanitarian gesture. "You must save a woman in danger of death," he said.


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