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Chavez visit to France buoys hope for news on hostage held in Colombia

Chavez visit to France buoys hope for news on hostage held in Colombia

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez voiced optimism about chances for a swap of prisoners for hostages held by Colombian rebels, including a former presidential candidate whose plight has captured France's attention.
"I have a lot of faith that we're going to achieve the accord," Chavez told reporters after arriving in Paris on Monday night. "It could open the way to peace in Colombia."
Chavez was to hold talks Tuesday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the family of hostage Ingrid Betancourt, who has dual Franco-Colombian citizenship and whom Sarkozy is determined to free.
"Ingrid is alive, I'm sure of it," Chavez said.
He acknowledged, however, that he has yet to receive proof from the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, that the hostages are alive.
"Let's wait for the proof. I have a lot of faith that they're alive," Chavez told reporters.
He said FARC commander Manuel Marulanda had told him to take a message to Sarkozy that Betancourt "is being treated well."
"I trust in Marulanda's word," Chavez said. The Venezuelan leader said he also believes Sarkozy has an important role to play.
Earlier, speaking by telephone to Venezuelan state television, Chavez said, "The game in some way has become a little more flexible. Through those small openings I think we can advance."
Chavez has been trying to broker a swap between imprisoned guerrillas and hostages held by the FARC, including Betancourt.
Posters with Betancourt's photo have adorned France's city halls and some top French musicians have performed concerts to keep her plight in the public eye.
Betancourt was running for president when she was abducted in 2002 along with her campaign manager, Clara Rojas, on the campaign trail and spirited deep into the Colombian jungle. The last time Betancourt was seen publicly was in a video statement from 2003.
Chavez's new willingness to act as negotiator and the May election of Sarkozy have breathed new life into the Betancourt family's struggle. Sarkozy has made winning Betancourt's release a priority.
Betancourt's relatives were scheduled to meet with Sarkozy and Chavez at the presidential Elysee Palace following their talks.
Chavez emerged as a negotiator in Colombia's long-running conflict, in part because FARC rebels express an affinity for his leftist ideals, and because he has cordial ties with U.S.-allied Colombian President Alvaro Uribe _ despite deep ideological differences.
Ideological differences also divide Chavez and Sarkozy, a conservative who has strived to mend France's relations with the United States. Tuesday's meeting was to be the first between the two leaders.
The FARC has demanded that two Colombian rebels imprisoned in the United States be included in any prisoner swap.
One of them, Ricardo Palmera _ or Simon Trinidad _ is to be sentenced by a judge in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday for the kidnapping of three Americans in Colombia. Another, Nayibe "Sonia" Rojas, was convicted this year by a U.S. court of exporting cocaine.
"We have to make efforts because in the United States there are two guerrillas who were extradited, (and) the guerrillas say if they don't release them both _ Sonia and Trinidad _ they won't release the Americans, that if they don't release the Americans they won't release anyone," Chavez said by telephone Monday to Venezuelan state television.
"It's difficult, but all of that can be achieved," Chavez said.
In an e-mail sent to news media on Monday, the FARC released the transcript of an earlier interview with rebel Luciano Marin Arango, better known by the nom de guerre Ivan Marquez, who met with Chavez on Nov. 8.
In the interview, dated Nov. 9, Arango is quoted as saying: "While Chavez is heading up this mediation, hope will stay alive."
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Associated Press correspondent Ian James in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-10-23 22:51 GMT+08:00