BOGOTA, Colombia Freed after years as rebel-held hostages, French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and four Colombian police officers sent messages of hope in a radio broadcast Sunday to captives still detained in remote jungle camps.
The former hostages appeared on an all-night radio program aimed at rebel captives and wept as they recalled their ordeal, which ended four days ago when Colombian agents duped guerrillas and airlifted 15 hostages to freedom.
"Hostage brothers, what happened to us has more than proved that God exists," said police Cpl. John Jairo Duran. "Don't let yourselves be conquered by sadness. We never thought it would be our turn to be free, and it was. Your turn is very near."
Bogota's Caracol Radio has broadcast the weekly "Voices of Kidnapping" program for the benefit of rebel-held hostages for 14 years, inviting their relatives to call in with messages that hostages often are able to hear via portable radio.
In a surprise call from France, where she traveled after her liberation, Betancourt sent "a big hug" and words of encouragement to those left behind.
"Have no doubt that I will continue fighting so all of you return to freedom," she said on the program, transmitted nationwide every Sunday from midnight until daybreak. "Now that I'm free, I'm going to try to do what I can in Colombia and other countries to put an end to kidnapping."
Betancourt said French President Nicolas Sarkozy has already ordered French officials to try to resume contact with the guerrillas in hopes of freeing other hostages.
Betancourt was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, while running for Colombia's presidency in 2002. She said she plans to stay in France for now and won't return to Bogota for a July 20 march to demand the release of other hostages.
"I'm afraid," she said, adding she plans to lead a simultaneous demonstration in Paris and hopes the two may be linked by giant video screens.
She said her "imprudence" in traveling to a rebel stronghold in 2002 was an error that contributed to her kidnapping, saying she wants to be doubly safe now because "I made my family suffer a lot."
"I think I have to stay here. From here I can contribute much more," said Betancourt, who has indicated she plans to ultimately live in Colombia.
Colombia's government says the FARC still holds about 700 hostages for political leverage and ransom. Rebels had offered to swap 25 high-value captives for imprisoned guerrillas, but Wednesday's rescue robbed them of their top bargaining chips, including Betancourt and three American defense contractors.
Hundreds of hostages left behind still need encouragement, the freed captives said, appearing on Sunday's program with hostages' family members and dozens of journalists who filled the studio to listen.
Rescued police Lt. Javier Rodriguez addressed his still-captive friend, Col. Luis Mendieta, alongside Mendieta's wife and two children.
"Do you remember that you told me she was the prettiest woman in the world?" he asked, recalling how Mendieta had once shown him a photo of his daughter Jenny now 20 playing with a dog.
"Well, I'll tell you, colonel: Now she's prettier than in that photo," Rodriguez said. "You have more than enough reasons to keep fighting to be reunited with your family."
Through tears, Duran recounted how he grew close to another hostage, Capt. Julian Ernesto Guevara, who became ill after long hikes ordered by rebels.
"His skin hugged his bones," Duran said. "So I fed him, I bathed him, I shaved him ... I carried him on my back."
He said he begged the rebels to provide a doctor, but they offered a nurse, and the pills and injections she prescribed didn't help. One morning in January 2006, Duran called out to Guevara and there was no answer he was dead.
"I asked the guerrillas to let me bury him and they told me, 'That's not going to be possible,' and they took him away," said Duran, weeping uncontrollably until two police officers helped him out of the radio studio.