ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 2, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 14

Chavez to talk to FARC rebels on hostages

BOGOTA, Saturday (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said yesterday he planned to hold talks with Colombia's FARC guerrillas in Venezuela in an attempt to break a stalemate on freeing kidnap victims held for years by the Marxist rebels. Left-winger Chavez steps into a bitter deadlock between President Alvaro Uribe, a U.S. ally popular for his hard-line stance against rebels, and Latin America's oldest guerrilla group resisting attempts to end a 40-year conflict.

The proposal fuels hope for a deal to free scores of hostages languishing in rebel jungle camps, including French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, snatched in 2002, and three U.S. contract workers captured a year later.“President Uribe has welcomed the idea I receive FARC representatives in Venezuela to talk over this matter,” Chavez told reporters after a meeting with Uribe in Bogota. He did not give details when the talks would occur.

Chavez said he received direct communication from the FARC on Friday morning after he offered to act as a mediator between the guerrillas and Uribe's government. But the populist former paratroop commander did not give any details. While Uribe has been a close White House ally whose country has received billions in U.S. military aid, Chavez has aggressively sought to counter Washington's influence in Latin America with a socialist approach, offering neighbors energy deals as part of his self-styled revolution.

But Uribe and Chavez have kept up ties, and the Venezuelan's leftist credentials, strong connections to Cuba and growing regional influence have stirred hope among families of victims he can give talks new energy.“It's the first time I see there could be a small light at the end of the tunnel,” Betancourt's husband, Juan Carlos Lecompte, said before Chavez's announcement.

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