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Colombia Authorizes Venezuela to Cross Border to Receive Rebel Hostages


Colombia's government has accepted a Venezuelan operation to receive three hostages to be freed by Colombian rebels. VOA's Brian Wagner reports from Miami Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he has planes and helicopters ready to fly into Colombia to pick up the hostages.

Colombia's government gave its approval to the Venezuelan plan to recover three hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC. The group is on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations.

Foreign Minister Fernando Araujo announced the decision and thanked President Chavez for his government's efforts.

He said the Colombian government authorized the humanitarian operation and delegated Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo to join the mission.

Earlier, President Chavez said he had airplanes and helicopters ready to depart from Venezuelan airports to carry out the operation at a moment's notice. Mr. Chavez said the aircraft will fly across the border, where they will receive instructions from rebel leaders about where to pick up the three hostages.

He said the helicopters have been marked with the symbol of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and will be carrying extra fuel for the mission.

Rebel leaders say the three hostages include a former congresswoman, an aide to former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, and the woman's son, who was born in captivity.

President Chavez said he hopes to continue working to negotiate the release of all rebel hostages, which include three American contractors seized nearly five years ago.

In August, Colombia's government asked Mr. Chavez to negotiate with FARC leaders for a deal to exchange hostages for jailed rebels. President Alvaro Uribe ended Mr. Chavez's participation last month, saying he had improper contact with Colombia's army chief.

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