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Venezuela Begins Colombia Hostage Operation


Venezuela has sent two helicopters into Colombia to pick up two women and a child held by rebels in the Colombian jungle. VOA's Brian Wagner reports that officials hope to complete the operation in the coming days.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez inspected the aircraft bearing the symbol of the Red Cross at an airport in southwestern Venezuela. Wearing a red beret and fatigues, the former paratrooper greeted international observers on the mission, including Argentina's former President Nestor Kirchner and American filmmaker Oliver Stone.

He said the team is to pick up the hostages from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and complete the mission in the coming days.

Officials in Colombia say they have ordered military personnel not to interfere in what they are calling a humanitarian operation. Colombia's peace commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo says his government fully supports the Venezuelan-led effort.

He says it is very important for the Colombian and Venezuelan governments to work together to provide necessary guarantees for the operation.

The three hostages are former Colombian Congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez, Clara Rojas - an aide to former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt - and Rojas's son, who was born in captivity. FARC rebels are holding more than 40 so-called high-profile hostages, including Betancourt and three American defense contractors.

Mr. Chavez said he hopes the hostage recovery helps revive peace efforts between Colombia's government and leftist rebels. Mr. Chavez said that, with the approval of Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe, he would meet with FARC leader Manuel Marulanda, adding he could forget the past in order to advance efforts at freeing all the hostages.

Last month, after Mr. Uribe ended the Venezuelan leader's efforts to mediate a hostage release deal, Mr. Chavez vowed to cut ties with Colombia.

Mr. Uribe accused Mr. Chavez of having improper contact with Colombia's army chief.

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