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Venezuela's Chavez Says He Will Renew Efforts to Free Hostages in FARC Custody


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he will try to re-establish contacts with Colombian leftist rebels to try to win the release of more hostages in their custody.

Mr. Chavez has previously said he lost contact with the FARC rebels following a Colombian raid on a FARC camp in neighboring Ecuador in March. But on Wednesday, Mr. Chavez said he discussed the hostage issue by telephone with his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr. Chavez announced the renewed effort as he met with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates in Venezuela's oil-rich Orinoco region.

The Venezuelan leader helped mediate the rebel release of six captives earlier this year and has called on the FARC to free French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt. The French government has made her release a priority.

She was kidnapped in February 2002 while campaigning for the Colombian presidency and is believed to be seriously ill.

The FARC is believed to be holding at least 700 people in secret jungle camps. Three Americans are among them.

Mr. Chavez, meanwhile, has ridiculed an investigation into his possible ties to the FARC.

Colombian officials say computer files found during their raid on the FARC rebel camp in Ecuador link him to the group. The international police organization, Interpol, is investigating the files.

Mr. Chavez has said the computer files are not trustworthy.

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

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