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'I want you to eat and have the will to live,' son tells captive mom

December 09, 2007|Angela Doland Associated Press

PARIS — "Not a day of your captivity goes by that I don't think of you," the teenager said into a radio microphone in Paris -- a message he hoped would reach his mother deep in the jungles of Colombia, where she has been held hostage for nearly six years.

Ingrid Betancourt, a French-Colombian citizen, was abducted by leftist guerrillas while campaigning for Colombia's presidency in 2002. Her children and President Nicolas Sarkozy fear she is wasting away, and they hope appeals over the airwaves will revive her survival instinct.

Betancourt's son, Lorenzo, now 19, was 13 the last time he saw his mother. In a radio appeal Friday, he called her "my sweet little mama, my heart."

"I want you to live," he told her in the message on RFI radio, which can be heard in Colombia, his voice steady. "I want you to eat and have the will to live."

Until last week, Lorenzo and his 22-year-old sister, Melanie, had no proof their mother was alive. Then, Colombian authorities arrested three suspected guerrillas and seized a video showing her thin and haggard, as well as a 12-page handwritten note from Betancourt.

The troubling images ratcheted up already intense pressure on Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to resolve the standoff. The hard-line president has long resisted extending an olive branch to the rebel group, which killed his rancher father two decades ago.

However, in an apparent breakthrough Friday, Uribe announced he was willing to arrange what would be the first face-to-face meeting between officials of his government and leftist rebels to facilitate an exchange of rebel prisoners for dozens of high-profile hostages, including Betancourt.

Uribe proposed that the meeting be held in a rural area monitored by international observers, with no weapons carried by either side.

Rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, have insisted that their negotiators not disarm for any talks. They refused to do so at failed 1999-2002 negotiations in a Switzerland-sized haven then ceded by the government.

In the letter, dated Oct. 24, Betancourt described losing her appetite and her hope. But she said she could sometimes hear her mother speaking on a Colombian radio station and she asked for more news of her children.

"This is the only information that is vital, wonderful, essential," she wrote. "The rest doesn't matter to me anymore."

On the radio, Lorenzo told his mother of his classes at the Sorbonne in Paris and his Corsica vacation. Melanie, who is studying film in New York, told her mother: "Be strong, because we're going to bring you home."

The two plan to send messages to their mother every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as she requested in the letter. "

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