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Venezuela's Chavez to Meet Colombian Rebels for Hostage Talks


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he has agreed to meet with Colombian leftist rebels to try to break a deadlock between the rebels and the Colombian government, and free rebel-held hostages.

Mr. Chavez announced the decision Friday on the outskirts of the Colombian capital, Bogota, following talks with his Colombian counterpart, President Alberto Uribe. Their talks covered a proposed swap of 45 hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, for hundreds of imprisoned rebels.

Mr. Chavez said President Uribe welcomed the idea of a rebel envoy traveling to Venezuela in an effort to find a solution to the hostage situation. He did not say when the talks would occur.

The Venezuelan leader had offered to engage in a dialogue with the rebel group, whose hostages include soldiers, police officers, French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three Americans.

The FARC has welcomed Mr. Chavez's efforts but says any hostage handover has to occur in Colombia.

The FARC has demanded that Colombian troops demilitarize an area in the southwestern part of the country ahead of any talks, but President Uribe has refused any territorial concessions.

Earlier this week, a spokesman for French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the French leader assured Mr. Chavez in a telephone call of his support to win the release of Betancourt and the other hostages.

Colombia has one of the world's highest kidnapping rates.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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