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Colombia: UNESCO chief hails release of former presidential candidate

Colombia: UNESCO chief hails release of former presidential candidate

Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), today voiced his “immense relief” at the news of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other Colombian and American hostages who had been held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

In a press release issued in Paris, he said he shares “the joy and emotion of their families and all their compatriots.”

Mr. Matsuura noted that Ms. Betancourt “became a symbol of resistance and courage throughout her imprisonment. Her behaviour, the constant dignity she displayed for six long years of captivity, inspire the deepest respect.

“All those who defend human rights rejoice at her rescue. I hope that this episode will mark a decisive step towards the freeing of all the other hostages still held by the FARC,” he added.

The Colombia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also expressed its “deep satisfaction” at the liberation of the hostages.

The office in a press release reissued its call to all illegal armed groups – FARC in particular – to immediately and unconditionally release all hostages, and said that it also “reiterates that kidnapping is a cruel, inhumane and degrading act which under no circumstances can be justified or excused. Moreover, it reminds that this act constitutes a grave violation of international humanitarian law.”

In a statement issued by his spokesperson on Wednesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warmly welcomed the hostages' release and called on FARC “to immediately and unconditionally release the remaining hostages, whose security is their responsibility. He urges the FARC and other groups to engage in dialogue with the authorities with a view to freeing hostages and ending the violence that has afflicted Colombia for so long.”

Ms. Betancourt's father, Gabriel Betancourt, was the Colombian Ambassador to UNESCO from 1968 to 1974.