Pictured: The moment former hostage Ingrid Betancourt realised she was free

This is the emotional moment Ingrid Betancourt discovered she and and 14 other hostages were being freed in a dramatic rescue operation.

The former Colombian presidential candidate and French citizen was liberated after six years of captivity in the Colombian jungle after Colombia's military duped rebels into turning over the hostages, Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos said.

Video filmed during the operation shows the hostages filing grim-faced towards the helicopter in a grassy clearing fringed with a coca field, before embracing and weeping with joy when they are in the air and realise they are free.

Ingrid Betancourt

Overjoyed: Ingrid Betancourt discovers she has been set free from captivity

Denying reports that a ransom was paid, Santos said that Wednesday's elaborate ruse intentionally mimicked two hostage handovers brokered by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez earlier this year, when Venezuelan helicopters carrying International Red Cross observers picked up six hostages.

'In the last two handovers of hostages,' Santos said, 'there was always a cameraman sent by Chavez.'

The three-minute video showed the mission was modelled on the Venezuelan operations right down to the red T-shirt worn by a supposed journalist, who poses questions to a rebel while hostages' hands are bound with plastic handcuffs.

Ingrid Betancourt helicopter

The hostages board the helicopter, unaware they are heading towards freedom

The would-be envoys had honed their accents in acting lessons - Italian, Arab, Caribbean Spanish, and Australian English 'identical to Crocodile Dundee,' Santos said.

In the video, the guerrilla's most famous hostage, Betancourt, stands with an angry expression.

American Keith Stansell nears the camera.

'I love my family,' he  tells the cameraman. 'Pray a lot.'

Ingrid Betancourt

Handcuffed: Betancourt and another hostage get set to board the helicopter

The local rebel commander, alias Cesar, cheerfully refuses an interview.

Santos said military intelligence agents had infiltrated the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, so that Cesar and other guerrillas believed the hostages were being moved on the orders of top rebel leader Alfonso Cano for negotiations on a prisoner exchange.

To play their roles, some soldiers wore Che Guevara T-shirts.

Ingrid Betancourt goes into helicopter

A grim-faced Betancourt boards the rescue helicopter

The video shows a line of rebels standing in the distance watching as the helicopter starts up.

Cesar and another rebel came aboard the helicopter and, once airborne, were overpowered by the soldiers - a moment that was not filmed.

The final images on the video capture the hostages' elation as they realise their captors are actually soldiers rescuing them.

Betancourt  cries with joy and astonishment, and hugs William Perez, a fellow hostage whom she later credited for nursing her through jungle illnesses.

Ingrid Betancourt

Emotional: Betancourt weeps with joy as she learns she is free

'We waited 10 years for you!' exclaims Perez, an army corporal who was captured by the FARC in March 1998.

A lawyer for Cesar, whose real name is Gerardo Aguilar, said his client was completely hoodwinked by the operation.

Rodolfo Rios said his client, who is now jailed in Bogota, 'only realized the deception when he was in the aircraft ... He also told me he was hit and that, after they immobilized him, they applied various injections.'

Paraded past reporters on Friday, Cesar refused to say who had hit him.

He had a black eye and bruises on his face.


Thumbs-up: Former hostages celebrate their liberation

A beacon and microphones were aboard the Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter, allowing those overseeing the rescue to monitor its progress, a US official said.

Santos said a US surveillance plane was overhead monitoring the mission.

He denied reports that Israel was involved in the operation, adding that it was '100 per cent Colombian.'

'Not a single foreigner participated,' he said.

He also denied a Swiss radio report that Colombia had paid millions of dollars in ransom to rebels in exchange for the hostages.

Ingrid Betancourt

Overcome: Betancourt reacts to the happy news

The radio station said the United States, which had three of its citizens among those freed, was behind the deal, and put the price of the ransom at some £10 million.

The government does offer rewards for information leading to the arrest of FARC leaders, but in this case, Santos said: 'Not a cent has been paid.'

Betancourt returned to a hero's welcome in her beloved France on Friday.

She was greeted by President Nicolas Sarkozy as she descended the plane at the Villacoublay air base southwest of Paris.

Betancourt and Sarkozy

Home at last: French president Nicolas Sarkozy welcomes Betancourt with an embrace

A dual French-Colombian citizen, Betancourt was campaigning for Colombia's presidency when she was kidnapped in 2002.

Her captivity caused widespread concern in France, and her supporters held candlelight vigils and marches around the country urging efforts to free her from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

In a choked voice, Betancourt said: 'I have cried a lot during this time from pain and indignation. Today, I am crying from joy."

Ingrid Betancourt

Free: Betancourt received a hero's welcome in her beloved France

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