Ingrid Betancourt is forced to sleep chained by her neck as punishment for having attempted to escape from her rebel captors five times.
Visibly angered after hearing how leftist rebels are treating Betancourt and three American military contractors, President Alvaro Uribe ordered his military to intensify efforts Friday to free them.
The high-profile hostages were being held in the same Amazon jungle camp from where police officer Jhon Frank Pinchao escaped April 28, after eight years in captivity of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
After 17 days trekking, swimming and crawling through the jungle, Pinchao was found Wednesday by an anti-narcotics police patrol. On Thursday he met with dozens of family members of FARC hostages at a police hospital where he was being treated for malnutrition and exposure-related skin problems.
During the brief meeting, he described how Betancourt was chained by the neck to other prisoners every night - and sometimes for 24 hours at a time - in order to prevent her from escaping, family members present at the meeting told The Associated Press on Friday.
"They're treating her like an animal," said her husband, Juan Carlos Lecompte, adding that he feared her captors would harshen their treatment of the hostages following Pinchao's escape. "The guerrillas lie when they say they're treating women and prisoners humanely."
Lecompte said Pinchao did not explain the circumstances of her escape attempts, but he hoped to learn more from the police officer in a private meeting soon. Pinchao, he said, was kept with Betancourt for almost three years.
Yolanda Pulecio, Betancourt's mother, told the AP that Pinchao "is the first and only person I've seen who was with Ingrid since she was kidnapped" in 2002 while campaigning for the presidency on a leftist ticket in southern Colombia, a longtime rebel stronghold.
Previously, in 2003, the FARC sent a proof-of-life video of Betancourt and her running mate Clara Rojas, who Pinchao said gave birth three years ago in captivity to a child named Emanuel. The father is apparently a guerrilla.
After suffering a bout of hepatitis a year ago, Pinchao said, Betancourt remains thin but is otherwise in good health and recently was his daily exercise partner.
Betancourt passes her days discussing politics with other hostages, reading and keeping a journal of her long captivity, according to Pulecio and Lecompte. She also managed to safeguard from her captors a radio with which she receives daily messages from loved ones transmitted over a radio program dedicated to the hostages.
"I send Ingrid a message every morning at 5 a.m. (local time) and ask myself whether she can hear me or not," said Pulecio. "Now I know she can hear me."
Uribe, at a military ceremony, said Pinchao's testimony "demonstrates that the FARC's concentration camps are more cruel than the concentration camps of the Nazis." He also exhorted his top generals to draft up plans to free the hostages, despite the opposition of many family members who fear any rescue operation would end in a bloodbath.
"Generals we're going to rescue Ingrid Betancourt," said a visibly angered Uribe.
The FARC is also holding three Northrop Grumman Corp. contractors who were on a drug surveillance mission in Colombia's cocaine-producing southern jungle when their plane crashed on Feb. 13, 2003.
One of the American hostages, Marc Gonsalves, is currently suffering from hepatitis, Pinchao told journalists on Wednesday. According to Lecompte, Pinchao said that in the shorter time he was with the Americans he did not see them being chained like Betancourt because none had attempted to escape.
Betancourt's sister, Astrid Betancourt, met with French president Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday in Paris.