BOGOTA/PARIS—Colombia showed a video on Friday of the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages where their anger turned to ecstasy as theater-trained military agents duped and overpowered leftist rebels.
Betancourt, a French-Colombian politician who flew to a hero's welcome in Paris on Friday, appeared offended in the video at being handcuffed before boarding a helicopter. One of three American captives spat an insult into the camera.
But moments later, the footage of Wednesday's daring rescue showed Betancourt on board the helicopter weeping, smiling and hugging fellow hostages as she was told she was free after six years in captivity at secret jungle camps. Cheering erupted in the background.
The first airing of the video -- taken by a military agent posing as a journalist -- revealed the shock of the freed hostages, whose raucous celebration rocked the helicopter so hard that Betancourt feared it would crash.
The bloodless operation brought the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to the brink of defeat in its 44-year-old, cocaine-financed war for control of the country.
The rebels still hold hundreds of captives for ransom and political leverage. But the FARC, which has lost senior leaders in the field this year through illness, military attack and internal betrayal, had suddenly given up its top bargaining chip and exposed its fragmenting organization.
The rescue also boosted an already popular President Alvaro Uribe, who has supporters asking him to change the constitution and run for re-election in 2010 to maintain policies that have made much of Colombia safer and attracted foreign investment.
In France, where President Nicolas Sarkozy had made her release a foreign policy priority and thousands had campaigned for her freedom for years, Betancourt thanked her supporters.
"The extraordinary, perfect, flawless operation of the Colombian army that has allowed me to be here today is also a result of your struggle," she said just after landing in Paris, where Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni-Sarkozy greeted her.
A tearful Betancourt gave credit to France for her release, saying it was partly thanks to French campaigning that the Colombian military had decided against a risky commando-style rescue in favor of a ruse.
The FARC was tricked into handing over the hostages by military agents pretending to be Italian, Australian and Arab members of a fictitious non-governmental group who would ferry the captives to the guerrillas' leader.
Trained for weeks by actors, they persuaded the two rebels who boarded the helicopter to leave behind their weapons.
In the air, they subdued the guerrillas—one was left with a large purple bruise across his cheek and nose—and they announced to the hostages their captivity was over.
"We waited and waited years for this," a freed Colombian soldier yelled into the camera.
The Colombian government used the video to showcase its operation and denied reports other nations took part or that it paid a ransom for the freedom of the captives.
Defense Minister Manuel Santos said the military studied films of hostage releases to determine how far the rebels could be pushed into going along with the deception. The idea of binding the 15 hostages came from the rescuers to build credibility with the guerrillas.
Joy in France
Betancourt lived in France in her youth and has dual nationality after a now-annulled marriage. After she was kidnapped, the French embraced her as one of their own, staging countless marches and demonstrations on her behalf for six years.
On Friday, dozens of her anonymous supporters cheered and wept at a reception for Betancourt at the presidential Elysee palace, where she hugged and kissed them as Sarkozy beamed.
He had actively sought her release since he took office last year, pressing for negotiations with her captors and urging the Colombian authorities to avoid military action.
The French government was consequently kept in the dark about the Colombian rescue mission, unlike the United States which knew of the plan at least days before and provided signaling equipment. Sarkozy was informed Betancourt had been freed only after soldiers extracted her from the jungle.
Sarkozy's rival in the 2007 election, Socialist Segolene Royal, was swift to jump on this, calling his efforts "useless." She was widely criticized for sounding a negative note.
"(Uribe) wasn't always in favor of all the French initiatives," Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on RTL radio. "This is a victory for him without any doubt, but it is not a defeat for others."