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Hostage Ingrid Betancourt opens up about six years in jungle captivity

Ingrid Betancourt, once the world's most pitied and celebrated guerrilla hostage, has spoken in detail for the first time about her six-and-a-half years as a captive of Colombian paramilitaries.

In a voluminous book, published yesterday, Betancourt (49), describes how she was humiliated, beaten and sexually assaulted by the ultra-leftist Farc guerrillas (Revolutionary Colombian Armed Forces), but managed to cling to her sanity and to her sense of identity.

Farc is the group that three Irish republicans were suspected of training when they were arrested in Bogota in 2001. The men, known as the Colombia Three, escaped to Ireland and were found not guilty of the charge.

In earlier books, written by fellow hostages, Ms Betancourt has been accused of arrogance and selfishness while in captivity. She became deeply unpopular in Colombia in June after asking for $7m (£4.5m) in compensation from the government.

Even some of the people who campaigned for her release have been angered by her allegedly erratic behaviour since she regained her freedom in a Colombian military sting operation in July 2008.

In her 677-page book, written over 15 months, Ms Betancourt does not answer these criticisms directly, but admits many errors and failings. The book, Meme le silence a une fin, (Even silence comes to an end) has been hailed in the French press as “beautifully written” and “poetic”. Le Monde said that it often read like an “extraordinary adventure story”. The largest French book chain, FNAC, displayed the book yesterday in its literature section.

Ms Betancourt has refused until now to talk of her treatment at the hands of the rebels.

Her book begins with a 40-page, almost minute-by-minute, account of her fifth, and final, escape attempt in December 2002, which ends with a beating and sexual assault by three Farc guerrillas.

“She survived this and other beatings and humiliations, she said, partly through religious faith and partly through clinging to a conviction that “identity” and “self-respect” were more important than degradation or death.

In a book published last year, Out of Captivity, three American fellow hostages — Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes — accused Ms Betancourt of demanding better treatment than other captives because of her social and political standing in Colombia.

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