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Chavez's Helicopters Return Home After Failed Hostage Recovery Mission in Colombia


Venezuelan helicopters returned home Thursday after a failed mission to pick up three hostages held by leftist rebels in neighboring Colombia.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sent the helicopters marked with Red Cross symbols into the Colombian city of Villavicencio last week.

A team of international observers and Red Cross representatives was supposed to oversee the release of the hostages held for up to six years by the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

The deal fell apart Monday after FARC leaders claimed that bad weather and Colombian military teams in the area were interfering with plans for the hostage handover.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe accused the FARC of lying, saying the weather has been very clear in rebel-held areas.

He also denied there had been any military operations during the past two weeks.

The recovery team was waiting for rebels to disclose where in Colombia's dense jungle they would release former lawmaker Consuelo Gonzalez, as well as former vice presidential candidate Clara Rojas and her three-year-old son, Emmanuel, who was fathered by one of the captors.

Mr. Uribe raised the possibility that the rebels could not complete the handover because they may no longer be holding the boy. Mr. Uribe said a boy found in southeast Colombia in 2006 might be Emmanuel. Authorities are awaiting the results of DNA tests to determine the child's identity.

The FARC has demanded the release of hundreds of rebels held in Colombian prisons in return for the hostages.

The rebels have been fighting the government for decades. They hold more than 40 so-called high profile hostages, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, kidnapped with Rojas in February 2002. The FARC also holds three American defense contractors.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

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