Chavez seeks Colombia's backing to meet rebel chief

Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez asked his Colombian counterpart to let him meet with the chief of Colombia's Marxist FARC rebels to discuss a hostage swap, and suggested French leader Nicolas Sarkozy could join the talks.

Chavez seeks Colombia's backing to meet rebel chief
Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez asked his Colombian counterpart to let him meet with the chief of Colombia's Marxist FARC rebels to discuss a hostage swap, and suggested French leader Nicolas Sarkozy could join the talks.

"President (Alvaro) Uribe asked me to help him. I want to help him. I make a formal request to him before the world: let me talk with (Manuel) Marulanda in Colombia," Chavez said on television, naming the head of the guerrilla movement.

Chavez asked Uribe to come too, adding that Sarkozy had offered to come with him to meet Marulanda in Caguan, southern Colombia.

"Accompany me," Chavez said, addressing Uribe. "Sarkozy told me that he can even come with me to Caguan."

But in Colombia Uribe swiftly nixed the idea.

The Venezuelan leader has cast himself as an intermediary between the Marxist guerillas and the right-wing Uribe, by trying to negotiate the release of 45 hostages held by the FARC, which stands for Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

They have demanded in return the release of hundreds of their own members held by Colombian authorities.

Among those held by the FARC is a high-profile hostage, the dual nationality French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt. Sarkozy has pressed for a "humanitarian accord" to secure the hostages' release. Betancourt was seized in 2002 while campaigning for the Colombian presidential election.

Friday, at a gathering in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, Chavez indicated he had received a message from Marulanda but did not address the content.

And earlier, Colombia's government indicated it did not want Chavez to travel to Colombia to negotiate a hostage swap with the FARC.

Then Saturday, asked about Chavez's remarks, Uribe told local radio in Rionegro, Colombia: "what already has been said does not need to be repeated.

"Don't ask me to talk about these things publicly," Uribe told reporters. "You already know my position on that."

Over his more than six years of government, Uribe has said his administration would not demilitarize any part of Colombian territory to negotiate with FARC rebels, which was done during the government of his predecessor Andres Pastrana, in an effort to get peace talks started.

The FARC is Latin America's largest and longest-fighting insurgency.

AFP
Last Mod: 16 Eylül 2007, 17:48
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