- The Washington Times - Monday, January 5, 2009

BOGOTA

The daring jungle rescue of Ingrid Betancourt, three Americans and 11 others from leftist guerrillas could become a movie soon if Hollywood producers can strike a deal with the Colombian government.

Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures are competing to portray Operation Jaque (Operation Check), in which Colombian soldiers in July posed as aid workers to free the hostages being held by guerrillas with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), government officials said.

Miss Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate who has dual French-Colombian nationality, had been in captivity for more than six years.

“Sony Pictures representatives came here and presented a project already well under way. Warner Brothers came as well,” Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos told Agence France-Presse.

“At the ministry, we offered them our full collaboration. The goal is that they release a very good film true to the facts.”

Warner Bros. spokeswoman Jessica Zacholl, contacted by telephone in Los Angeles, confirmed that her studio had acquired the rights to a project on the rescue operation. “The film will focus on the operation,” Miss Zacholl said.

She said the film was in development and it would be premature to provide any further details.

Sony, contacted by AFP, said it was unable to comment on the project at this time.

Mr. Santos said the producers could begin filming as early as mid-2009 and release the movie in theaters a year later. He added that the negotiations were coming to a close.

The script, Mr. Santos said, would be adapted from a book on the rescue operation by Colombian writer Juan Carlos Torres.

“I find great personal gratification in the film being produced. It is a tribute to the army and all Colombians, especially as it will be shown all over the world by either Sony or Warner, two top-notch production houses,” said Mr. Torres, whose book became a best-seller two weeks after its publication.

Miss Betancourt indicated last month that she would step out of the limelight for a year to write her own memoir of her hostage ordeal.

On July 2, 2008, President Alvaro Uribe ordered the launch of the top-secret operation to free hostages held by FARC.

The group included Miss Betancourt, U.S. contractors Thomas Howes, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Stansell - kidnapped by the Marxist guerrillas in February 2003 - and 11 members of the Colombian military and police.

Authorities said the surprise operation came after careful preparation of Colombia’s intelligence services and infiltration of the FARC cell guarding the hostages.

Colombian soldiers arrived at FARC’s jungle hideout posing as aid workers and tricked guerrillas into handing over the hostages, ostensibly to be transferred to another FARC site.

Mr. Torres said part of the profits from his book’s sales will be provided to rehabilitation and assistance programs for Colombian soldiers wounded in combat or during missions.

“Some of the book’s profits goes to the heroes of the Colombian army, and I hope that part of the film’s ticket sales will also go to them,” Mr. Torres said.

The projected film is not the only FARC-related movie being planned. Colombian director Victor Gaviria is said to be working on “Black Blood: The Hour of the Traitors,” the true story of a young FARC leader betrayed by his family. Former FARC members who have laid down their arms are set to play leading roles.

In early 2008, FARC unilaterally released six other hostages to Venezuela following mediation led by Colombian Sen. Piedad Cordoba and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Another hostage, politician Oscar Tulio Lizcano, was recovered on Oct. 26 after a former FARC guerrilla fled the jungle with him.

FARC still holds an estimated 700 hostages, most of them ordinary Colombian citizens seized for ransom, with about 28 held as political prisoners.

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