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Venezuela's Chavez in Colombia to broker hostage-for-rebel deal

Venezuela's Chavez in Colombia to broker hostage-for-rebel deal

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez entered Colombia's bitter hostage standoff Friday, seeking to broker a deal between the government and leftist guerrillas to free hostages including politician Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. defense contractors.
"I ask God that I can contribute in the issue of this humanitarian swap, in the search for peace, a peace for all of us," Chavez said after stepping off his plane in Bogota before a daylong meeting with President Alvaro Uribe outside of capital.
Greeted with a ceremonial guard, the presidents entered Uribe's farm. For the rest of the day, Chavez's agenda was repeatedly pushed back as the two famously verbose presidents huddled in private meetings away from the press with no announcements.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, is holding 45 hostages, including soldiers, politicians and the three U.S. contractors abducted more than four years ago. In return for releasing them, the FARC wants hundreds of guerrillas to be freed, including two commanders now in U.S. prisons.
Success by Chavez in mediating a humanitarian swap could expand his influence and improve his image in the region, but it's a risky move _ he is stepping squarely into Colombia's civil conflict and generating optimism among the families of those long held captive by rebels. Seldom has Chavez involved himself so directly with the internal affairs of another nation.
And while both sides agree in principle to the exchange, the details appear far being reached. The FARC is insisting on a 45-day demilitarized zone for the handover. Uribe has ruled this out. The rebels also want released guerrillas to be allowed to return to the insurgency, something the government also has rejected.
Families of the kidnapped are optimistic nevertheless that Chavez, who has turned Venezuela into a socialist republic, can find a way through the mutual distrust of Colombia's conservative government and leftist rebels.
The French-Colombian Betancourt, abducted as she campaigned for president of Colombia in 2002, recently marked 2,000 days in captivity. U.S. defense contractors Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell were snatched after their plane crashed in 2003 during an anti-drug mission.
On Thursday, France's Nicolas Sarkozy phoned Uribe to express his support for the talks.
The spokesman for Britain's ruling Labour party in the European Parliament said European troops could be used to patrol a temporary demilitarized zone.
An "agreement to create a demilitarized zone involving a tiny slice of land the same size as Easter Island and representing just 0.015 percent of Colombia's territory as a location for a secure prisoner swap, is now standing between the FARC hostages and freedom," said Richard Howitt, the vice chair of the European Parliament's Human Rights Subcommittee.


Updated : 2021-04-23 08:27 GMT+08:00