Sat, Aug 18, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Chavez offers to mediate between Colombia, rebels

AP , CARACAS

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he would meet with the families of hostages held by Colombia's largest rebel group and is willing to help mediate peace talks between the guerrillas and the Colombian government.

"I've put myself at all of Colombia's service," Chavez said Thursday following a meeting with Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba, who has received permission to serve as peace mediator with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) over a possible humanitarian exchange.

Chavez said he spoke with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe on Thursday, but did not elaborate.

The FARC is holding hundreds of hostages, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three US defense contractors, whom they say they will free in exchange for the release of imprisoned guerrillas and a temporary demilitarized zone.

It was not immediately clear who Chavez would meet with or where. But he said recently he would like to meet with Colombian rebel leaders to discuss ways to end the neighboring country's decades-long armed conflict involving government troops, leftist insurgents and paramilitary groups.

Chavez said that Colombian officials had shown little interest in Venezuela getting involving in such conversations, saying: "We should take this issue up, but nobody wants to take it up."

Despite the deep ideological differences between Chavez and Uribe they have worked to maintain relations between their countries, which are bound by trade and concerns about security along a border frequented by rebels, paramilitary fighters and drug traffickers.

The FARC has declared its support for Chavez but he has never endorsed the rebels while maintaining a neutral stance regarding Colombia's armed conflict.

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