Chavez to meet Colombian rebels

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has agreed to invite Colombian rebels to discuss a hostage release deal.

Chavez to meet Colombian rebels
Mr Chavez announced the plan after talks with Colombian leader Alvaro Uribe on his role as mediator between Colombia's government and the rebels.

Mr Chavez hopes to secure the release of hostages by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) in exchange for rebels held by the authorities.

The two sides disagree on key issues, including a demilitarised zone.

Farc wants the government to create a such a zone to conduct the hostage exchange but Mr Uribe has refused to do so.

Confident

Mr Chavez announced his plan to host negotiations after a marathon six-hour session of talks at Mr Uribe's farm near Bogota.

"President Uribe has welcomed the idea that I receive Farc representatives in Venezuela," Mr Chavez said.

The BBC's Jeremy McDermott in Bogota says the challenge facing the Venezuelan president is a huge one.


The Farc have held some hostages for a decade and have vowed not to free any until hundreds of their comrades in prison are released.

The Colombian government and the Farc have been unable to agree on setting up talks.

And the rebels so far not made contact with the Venezuelan president in his role as facilitator.

But Mr Chavez said that he was confident that he would be able to arbitrate successfully.

"I ask God that I can contribute to this matter of a humanitarian swap, to the matter of the search for peace, which is peace for all of us - peace for Venezuela, peace for Colombia, union and integration," he said.

Mr Chavez also said he would also host talks between the government and Colombia's second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN).

Negotiations between the two sides that had been held in Cuba have recently stalled.

French connection

Farc rebels currently hold dozens of hostages, including several high-profile figures.

Relatives of those held captive are reported to be optimistic about Mr Chavez's involvement.

"It's the first time I see there could be a small light at the end of the tunnel," said Juan Carlos Lecompte, husband of French-Colombian Ingrid Betancourt, a former presidential candidate abducted by the Farc in 2002.

In June the Colombian authorities released Farc leader Rodrigo Granda - known as the group's "foreign minister" - as a prelude to freeing another 200 guerrillas from prison.

President Uribe said he had been influenced by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who was acting in the interests of Ms Betancourt.

Mr Chavez and Mr Uribe also discussed trade issues and a gas pipeline between the two states during their meeting in Bogota.


BBC
Last Mod: 01 Eylül 2007, 10:17
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