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Chavez Seeks to Renew Peace Efforts in Colombia


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he wants to resume peace efforts in Colombia following the release of two hostages held by leftist rebels. VOA's Brian Wagner reports Mr. Chavez also called on Colombia to recognize the rebels as insurgents and not as a terrorist group.

One day after helping negotiate the release of former Colombian politicians Consuelo Gonzalez and Clara Rojas, the Venezuelan president said he is confident he can make further progress with leftist rebels.

Mr. Chavez said, with Colombia's approval, he would renew talks with leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). They have been waging a communist insurgency for more than 40 years. He said negotiations with the leftist group is the only way to achieve peace in Colombia.

Mr. Chavez also called on governments in the region and around the world to remove the FARC and a smaller rebel group from lists of terrorist organizations.

He said the two groups are insurgent armies with political goals, which should be respected.

The United States government considers the FARC a terrorist group and provides millions of dollars in military and economic aid to Colombia's government to counter the rebels.

In a statement, FARC leaders said the release of the two hostages showed their willingness to negotiate with Colombia's government to free additional hostages, in exchange for the release of jailed rebels.

In August, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe asked Mr. Chavez to negotiate a deal with the rebels, but Mr. Uribe called off the Venezuelan leader's involvement last month because he said Mr. Chavez had improper contact with the Colombian army chief.

In a nationwide address late Thursday, President Uribe thanked Mr. Chavez and other international partners for their role in the hostage release. But he said he remains committed to tough security policies credited with sharply reducing the rebel threat.

He said Colombia has not yet won the battle against terrorism, but it will.

Mr. Uribe also read out some of the names of more than 700 hostages still in rebel hands, including three American military contractors. Many are being held in exchange for ransom money used to finance rebel activities.

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